Home » World Food Day » “This food crisis is deadly: it’s a race against time”

Shadrack Watho

East Africa Programme Manager, British Red Cross

There are over 800 million people in the world who live every day challenged by food insecurity. It is a crisis because people cannot access enough nutritious food to meet their basic needs.

The unfortunate reality is that many people I come across, with the Red Cross in East Africa, are some of the most acutely food insecure in the world. Their determination and resourcefulness are overwhelming. They should get the support they need.

Extreme weather and price hikes

Extreme weather, droughts or floods — leading to poor harvests — is part of the problem. Communities are left with little food supply and struggle to get through what’s called the lean season in sub-Saharan Africa (the months between harvests, usually June–November).

The situation right now is severe. Red Cross and Red Crescent teams are providing emergency humanitarian relief across affected areas in East, West, Southern and Central Africa. These communities contribute least to the climate crisis yet find themselves at the centre of its devastation.

To make matters worse, the cost of everything has gone up; so, even in places where food is readily available, affordability is low. For example, in the Sahel and West Africa regions, the price of staple cereals has gone up between 30% and 40% compared to the average of the last five years.

Finding ways to support communities

The duration and severity of these challenges are depleting people’s resilience. Communities need our help now. Our staff and volunteers are providing essential relief, such as food, water, cash and malnutrition assistance while supporting sustainable solutions to climate change. For example, we are helping farmers diversify their income and grow crops that are more resilient to extreme weather.

Red Cross and Red Crescent teams are supporting farming co-operatives, such as the all-female Malal (‘good luck’) co-op in Mauritania, West Africa, to bounce back. They use our cash grants to buy watering materials and fences, which protect their crops from the hot sands whipped up during the dry season. Technical agriculture training has also helped them choose crops, which have much higher profit margins, and they use the surplus income to start additional businesses. It’s easy to see why they report a much greater sense of food and livelihood security now.

Using forecasts and data to act early

The Mauritanian Red Crescent Society is working with its Government Food and Agriculture Departments to support volunteer farmers, herders and nurses in reporting food security data to the Government in almost real-time.

Nywenna is one of these volunteers. She leads the Elveiya village reporting group. She told us she is proud of her community and how they are asking for support to make their lives better than they were, to help with their agriculture and protect their animals.

To make matters worse, the cost of everything has gone up; so, even in places where food is readily available, affordability is low.

Food security can be managed best when people are given the information, tools and opportunities to advocate for themselves. Warning signs of an emerging food crisis can also be spotted early, and both governments and supporting charities can act more quickly to stop this kind of crisis in its tracks.

Nature-based solutions

Another key area of work for us is what’s referred to as nature-based solutions. In Lamu, Eastern Kenya, thanks to the support of funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are partnering with WWF-UK and WWF-Kenya to restore degraded forests, fields and floodplains. These nature-based actions will help communities both mitigate and adapt to the impacts of the changing climate.

We are proud to be working in strong partnerships to deliver new strategies — often simple, cost-effective ones — that are making a real difference. For us, it’s clear that the challenge of food insecurity is not insurmountable — solutions are out there, but it’s a race against time.

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