AUSTRALIA is playing a major role in solving the food security crisis in the Horn of Africa, both through much needed funds but also sharing our agricultural knowledge.
In the past 12 months, the Federal Government has increased its commitment from just $1-$2 million per year to more than $100m in immediate food aid relief for those hit by the worst famine in 60 years.
It has also pledged $100m during the next four years for science and research to improve the resilience of the region to future droughts, which are expected to become more frequent.
Australia’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Geoff Tooth, who has visited many of the worst hit areas, described the current famine as “soul destroying” with about 14 million people affected by the food crisis across four African countries.
“You wonder how we have got to this again after the famine of the 1980s,” he said.
There are now millions of people in refugee camps with the largest in Kenya, Dadaab, a makeshift home for 400,000 refugees.
Many in northern Kenya have lost all their livestock which they value as their “money in the bank” to buy seed for planting crops and feeding their families.
“The people that are impacted are really resilient and do not ask for help lightly so it is a sign of how desperate the situation is,” he said.
Mr Tooth said it was frustrating that for the past four decades 30 per cent of the Sub Saharan population had continued to suffer from malnutrition but a growing population, rising food prices and the effects of climate change were all contributing factors.
“It is possible to get results and we have seen some areas in northern and eastern Ethiopia which received considerable assistance in the 1980s, which have been less affected by the drought this time,” he said.
“We are now feeding more people – it is just that there are more people to feed.”
Mr Tooth believed there was hope of a longer term solution to the food security crisis with many of the Australian-funded projects drawing on our considerable expertise in dryland farming to dramatically improve the amount of food farmers produced.
The Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research funded SIMLESA project is one of the major ones.
It is working with 500,000 small land holder African farmers to increase their maize production by 30pc and reduce downside yield risk by 30pc in the next decade.
A $12m partnership between CSIRO and BecA Hub at the International Livestock and Research Institute is focussing on building the bioscience capacity in animal health and food and nutritional projects.
AusAID-funded scholarships for 1000 Africans to study at Australian Universities would also boost capacity building in the region.
Australians had shown they cared about Africa by how they spent their international aid dollar with 35pc of private donations destined for African projects.
He said Australian taxpayers were also comfortable with
the Federal Government’s level of commitment to reducing malnutrition and hunger in Africa, with Australia the fifth largest country donor to the region.
“They understand this is where the greatest challenges are and they want us to do something.”
Mr Tooth said they wanted these dollars spent on projects which had the greatest impact on the ground and there was constant review of projects to ensure they were delivering maximum benefit.
He acknowledged on a global scale more needed to be done with the Millennium Development Project target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 not yet on track.