‘Drought is the new norm’


THE Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) yesterday said ending poverty and hunger in African countries, including Zimbabwe, now requires innovative thinking since recurring droughts and erratic rains have become the new norm.

Addressing delegates during a session on the nexus between hunger and sustainable development, Fao assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, Abebe Gabriel, said African governments must now accept the regular frequency of droughts and erratic rainfall patterns.

“I think right now we are at a point where we should be planning around the dry years.

“Why are we still viewing the dry years as the abnormal, when they have clearly become the new norm for many nations in Africa?

“These dry years should now be the new norm and should inform the kind of strategies and policies which are being formulated in attempts to boost agriculture and to end hunger and poverty, particularly in rural communities,” Gabriel said.

He emphasised the importance of coming up with ways of entrenching sustainable agriculture.

“In this day and age, you see people still waiting for rains to come in November or October and expressing shock if the rains do not come.

“This should not be a shocking phenomenon by now, what we should be doing is planning and coming up with ways of having sustainable agriculture given the dry spells,” Gabriel added.

This comes as Africa, particularly the southern African region, has been reeling from the effects of climate change which is causing dry spells, erratic rains and floods which have displaced millions of families while leaving scores facing starvation.

Zimbabwe has not been spared from experiencing the droughts and floods, coupled with economic hardships, which have left over 8 million people in urban and rural communities currently facing starvation.

“Today, 256 million people, about one in five Africans, remains hungry, an increase of 44 million over 2014.

“In 2018, approximately 72 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty and in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 67 percent of all young workers live in poverty.

“Evidence has shown that under supportive conditions, agriculture in Africa can produce higher yields, generate adequate income for farmers, regenerate the natural capital and environmental services. This is why today we are placing major focus on agriculture in efforts to end hunger and poverty,” he said.

Gabriel said apart from implementing strategies to deal with the new norm of dry spells, African governments should also take advantage of the growing African food markets.

“African food markets are growing as they are currently being estimated to provide a trillion-dollar market opportunity by 2030 and providing new opportunities for jobs, entrepreneurship and innovation along agriculture food value chains.

“The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), with estimated combined GDP of $2,5 trillion, could generate about $6,7 trillion in customer and business spending by 2030 if successfully implemented,” he said.

Gabriel added that another way to improve agricultural production to end hunger and poverty is to include the youth in the agricultural sector.

Fao sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, Chimimba Phiri, said in addition to empowering youth in agriculture, there is a need to make women key players in agriculture.

“Research has shown that women are better when it comes to resource management. Governments must therefore prioritise women empowerment in agriculture and take it as an investment in good resource governance.

“Also, if we fail to empower women, this means that we will not be able to end hunger because if a woman is hungry then children are hungry as well,” Phiri said.

Phiri added that to end hunger and poverty, rural farming needs to be business-driven.

“Investments in infrastructure, that is roads and technology, are therefore critical to strengthen rural-urban linkages, transforming small and medium-sized towns into dynamic interfaces with rural areas and hubs for employment, entrepreneurship, training and innovation for rural youth and women.

“The role of the public sector remains key, for successful transformation, in providing the necessary enabling conditions and environment; to provide right set of incentives,” Phiri said.


Sindiso Mhlophe



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