There have been a lot of discussions and resolutions to combat food insecurity, but the issue of hunger and famine continues to linger in the sub-Saharan countries. They suggest primary causes and propose various courses of remedial action, but all in vain. Governments and the international community should not wait until we have spectacular indicators to act.
Emergencies should not be seen as inevitable. Food security of a nation can be attained if we increase the ability to produce cereal crops that can be stocked for long by the population.
For different obvious reasons that include the nature of climate, topography, soil, we cannot be self-sufficient and must depend on food aid or imports. Nonetheless, we remain in charge of our destiny and we should not continue to depend on aid - at least not for the food we eat! It is high time we said NO to starvation and the subsequent displacement of people.
Hunger is a complex problem with several factors contributing to a food crisis for people in all nations. There must be food available for people’s consumption. This calls for us to produce enough and be able to have food stocks for quite a long time. This is what I call food security, all-time food without necessarily having quality food. Quality food is second! But let every household get food to eat irrespective of the quality.
Many people are food-deprived and this does not necessarily mean that they need quality food. They need enough and all-time food. The population increases should not necessarily cause food crises; it should rather increase production, at least by African standards.
We should strive hard to ensure that we have food security and thus be safe from any risk of famine, starvation, chronic hunger and malnutrition. Famine describes extreme food scarcity among large populations. We should not dispute of course the reality that, food security depends upon a dynamic balance among disposable income, demand, supply and distribution. That is why food security varies depending on social status of the people.
The issue, however, remains; how can we stock food? What kind of food can be stocked?
The traditional methods of growing perishable foods have been discussed time and again but people have remained adamant.
And yet that is where the problem lies! In Rwanda for example, we have to change from growing Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc to growing cereal crops like maize on large scale. The poor food production does not really depend on the climate or the size of the country, but the type of crops we grow and the scale at which we are used to growing crops.
For sure the northern region and Gisenyi are so fertile and would be Rwanda’s big granary. But, the fact that the regions mainly produce Irish potatoes which cannot be stored, this fertile land does not serve our purpose well. Suppose they were largely producing maize, sorghum, millet and other cereals, we would not talk of hunger in Rwanda any more.
Even other areas of Rwanda, the issue of “poor soils” should not be advanced to explain the poor harvest. If we take a typical example of the central region of Tanzania and precisely a province called Tabora, we find the place with acidic and generally poor soils, with relatively short periods of rains. But to my amazement they have the best maize production in the region.
This is achieved by the use of scientific methods that promotes the systematic use of artificial fertilisers. Every peasant there (in Tabora) is an agriculturalist! I was astonished by the ability of a person who has never been to school, to apply fertilisers in a maize shamba. It is high time we emulated the Tabora ways of maize production.
In addition, we should realise substantial reduction in food spoilage after harvest. This could be realised by establishing primary food preservation and protection facilities in rural areas where crops are cultivated and animals reared. Food saved from spoilage increases total food available and enhances food availability and security. And this generally increases food stocks.
We need to have food stocks of cereals so as not only to alleviate temporary food insecurity, but also for the purposes of emergency reserves against regional, national, local and seasonal shortages; stabilising food prices, and counteract fluctuations in supply and availability.
In addition to prevention and mitigation, food security strategies at the household level needs to be enhanced through nutritional education and food management training to improve how households use the resources that are available. Nutritional problems are partly due to a lack of proper food stock management, with households selling the harvest quickly (at low prices), and buying at a higher price during the food gap. Support needs to be provided for the diversification of income generation, so that people become less vulnerable to climatic hazards.
It is from the above context therefore, that I would also suggest that we encourage other support income generating activities like trading and meaningful small scale farming that would enable people to protect themselves against food crises.