Millions of people on brink of severe food crisis | Africa | DW | 27.09.2017
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Millions of people on brink of severe food crisis

Over a hundred million people are facing food insecurity with some on the brink of famine, says Daniel Gustafson, deputy director of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. Helping people feed themselves is key.

DW: The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) along with other organizations issued a report in March stating that about 110 million people are on the brink of a food crisis or even worse in Africa. How has the situation developed in the last six months?

Daniel Gustafson: The situation in essentially all of the countries, that were highlighted as being in a severe crisis situation, continues. Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and northern Nigeria - all of them have a very large number of people essentially on the brink of collapse even with humanitarian assistance.

That means appeals to the international community to do something have not bore fruit so far?

There has been a considerable outpouring of support from donor countries, but not at the level that was requested.

The scale of the crises in those countries is really quite staggering, relative to what we've seen in normal years even with the effects of drought and El Nino and so on, exacerbated by conflict and a number of the countries that we see like Yemen and Syria for example.

I understand FAO is, for example trying to help in the Lake Chad region with projects to make people able to feed themselves. How is that progressing?

The main objective for us, together with other partners of course, is to build resilience of households and communities to be able to withstand the impact of drought and other unexpected shocks to the system.

We hope we can do that during the relief operations in a way that protects the livelihoods of the farmers. This is especially true for pastoralists to keep their livestock alive. 

That is what we see for example in Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere - that we need to protect the assets, to protect the livelihoods of the people so that they are able to continue producing food.

Even if you look, for example at Syria: with the crisis that's been going on for years there, still 40 percent of Syria's food is produced locally - which is kind of astonishing to a lot of people if you think that country has ended and collapsed. But we need to maintain the livelihoods of the pastoralists and the farm families.

You are here in Brussels to have a strategic dialogue with the European Union. What are your requests or demands? What would you like the EU, which is already the biggest donor in the world, to do?

We are here to talk about our partnership. We do get a lot of funding from the EU, they are among our largest voluntary contributors. But in fact we are partners in a number of ways.

A big part of the discussion is how we support countries in understanding their commitments, understanding implementation and helping them in implementation of commitments on climate change, forestry, soil degradation and fisheries.

There are a lot of international regulatory agreements on food safety and illegal fishing. There are lots of things that we collaborate quite closely on helping countries on their side and on our side through the offices that our organization has in those countries and through the delegations that the EU has there too.

Of course we appreciate enormously the financial contributions from the EU for the work that we do. But a lot of the dialogue is in fact about how we work together in addition to funding.

What about other major donors? Is the new American administration - the Trump administration - breaking away when it comes to financing the FAO?

So far we have not had any reduction in US funding. There are statements from US President Donald Trump on wanting to pay a lower share of the UN budget. Part of that of course is done through what are called assessed contributions where each member country has an obligation to pay according to the size of their income and population. And that's a table that is fixed and that is not so easy to change.

What is easier to change would be the voluntary contributions for projects and so far we have not seen a reduction there. There is a big debate in US Congress which is the one that appropriates the funds on whether or not to cut funding at all. And we'll see how that plays out.

Daniel Gustafson (photo: DW/B. Riegert)

Gustafson says the scale of the crises is staggering compared to previous years

The refugees who are coming to Europe from some of these countries, are passing through Nigeria and Libya. EU policymakers say we have to deal with them in the countries of origin. If you look at these countries, which are under a great deal of stress because they have so many internally displaced persons, do you understand what the EU is really talking about and looking for?

I think so. The complexity I think really is on the migration side. Very often the people who are migrating to Europe have already gone through several internal migrations. And what we really need is peace and stability and improved livelihood conditions so that people remain in place.

The issue however is how to keep them on the land over the long term and also to help countries in Africa in particular who have themselves absorbed a huge number of migrants.

We look at the case of Uganda which is probably the leader on this. They have given land plots to incoming South Sudanese refugees. Uganda is providing support to both the host communities and to the migrants who are coming in. That is a really fascinating approach that needs international support - it's getting some international support, [but] it needs more.

Daniel Gustafson is deputy director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

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