FAO Director-General calls for critical investments in agriculture and addressing climate change
11 April 2017, Rome – The crisis afflicting the strife-torn Lake Chad Basin is rooted in decades of neglect, lack of rural development and the impact of climate change, and the only way to ensure a lasting solution is to address these including through investments in sustainable agriculture, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, said today.
“This is not only a humanitarian crisis, but it is also an ecological one,” Graziano da Silva said at a media briefing in Rome on his visit last week to some of the worst affected areas in Chad and northeastern Nigeria.
“This conflict cannot be solved only with arms. This is a war against hunger and poverty in the rural areas of the Lake Chad Basin,” the FAO Director-General stressed.
“Peace is a prerequisite” to resolve the crisis in the region, but this is not enough, the FAO Director-General said. “Agriculture including livestock and fisheries can no longer be an afterthought. It is what produces food and what sustains the livelihoods of about 90 percent of the region’s population.”
Some 7 million people risk suffering from severe hunger in the Lake Chad Basin, which incorporates parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and northeastern Nigeria. In the latter, some 50,000 people are facing famine.
While fighting and violence have caused much of the suffering, the impact of environmental degradation and climate change including repeated droughts, are exacerbating the situation, the FAO Director-General said.
He noted how, since 1963, Lake Chad has lost some 90 percent of its water mass with devastating consequences on the food security and livelihoods of people depending on fishing and irrigation-based agricultural activities. And while Lake Chad has been shrinking, the population has been growing, including millions of displaced people from the worst conflict areas.
Food assistance and production support urgently needed
FAO together with its partners including other UN agencies is calling on the international community for urgent support – a combination of immediate food assistance and food production support is the only way to make dent in the scale of hunger in the region.
Graziano da Silva reiterated the call he made last week during his visit to Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria: if farmers miss the coming May/June planting season, they will see no substantial harvests until 2018. Failure to restore food production now will lead to the worsening of widespread and severe hunger and prolonged dependency on external assistance further into the future.
During his visit to the region, which included the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, Graziano da Silva also publicly presented FAO’s Response Strategy (2017-2019) for the Lake Chad Basin crisis.
Key activities include the distribution of cereal seeds, animal feed and the provision of cash transfers and veterinary care. This will enable displaced farmers and voluntary returnees to get a substantial harvest and replenish their food stocks, and to prevent animal losses among vulnerable herders
However, there is a huge shortfall in international assistance to meet the demands of the coming planting season. Of the $62 million requested under the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, FAO has only received $12.5 million.
Long-term investment for agriculture and rural development in Africa
The FAO Director-General warned that the situation in the Lake Chad Basin reflects in many ways the threats facing other countries in Africa, where a combination of ethnic or religious tensions fueled by rural poverty and unemployment, particularly amongst young people, could escalate full-scale crises.
Key to addressing this is the promotion and support for longer-term sustainable agriculture practices that can assist people in rural areas to adapt to climate change and the increasing scarcity of many natural resources, such as water and forests.
To do this, more investments in agriculture are needed, Graziano da Silva stressed, citing the example of Ethiopia where government support to the sector has helped alleviate the impact of El Niño-linked drought.
In the Lake Chad Basin region, FAO is working with farmers and displaced people to assist them with producing food and to sell their surplus in the markets. This includes the distribution of cash vouchers that help to stimulate markets for agricultural products.
In addition, FAO together with its partners is exploring the possibility of introducing irrigation techniques that will help save water, and to help train farmers in using these techniques.