Eastern Africa: Homegrown Solutions Critical to Better Manage Impacts of Recurrent Emergencies

By Mohamed Aw-Dahir*

ADDIS ABABA – A recent report prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and partners for the 7th Session of the African Regional Forum for Sustainable Development (ARFSD 7) in March 2021 confirms that hunger is on the rise in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite strong commitment at the highest political level the fight against hunger and malnutrition in many parts of Africa is yet to be achieved. The prevalence of undernourishment in Africa increased from 17.6 per cent in 2014 to 19.1 per cent in 2019. Currently, there are about 256 million (20 per cent) undernourished people on the continent. Of these, 239 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Eastern Africa accounts for a population of 271 million (almost 20 per cent of Africa’s population) and about 50 per cent of the animal resources in the continent yet, the region is home to over 50 percent of the continent’s chronically hungry people, and to 28 million or 20 percent of acutely hungry people globally.

The region continues to be the epicenter of humanitarian emergencies. Once again, the region is facing unprecedented multiple-threats to food security and nutrition. These include large scale armed conflicts, civil insecurity and displacement, heightened political and ethnic tensions related to elections cycles, uncertain political transition and instability in parts of the region, extreme weather patterns especially deepening drought in pastoral, agri-pastoral and other arid lands, impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and invasions of crop pests and diseases including desert locusts, which had devastating effects on crops and rangelands.

All these shocks – whether natural and man-made – make Eastern Africa one of the most food insecure regions in the world. The 2021 Global Report on Food Crises estimated that 155 million people in 55 countries were in crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above)  – an increase of around 20 million people from 2019. Of the ten countries with the highest number of people facing food crises on the continent, three – Sudan, Ethiopia and South Sudan – are in Eastern Africa. Somalia is not doing better either.

Prior to the current crises, countries in Eastern Africa sub-region were facing chronic hunger and high level of multidimensional poverty, which left populations to face high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. The emergence of COVID-19 also exacerbated the dire state of food security and nutrition. The pandemic has negatively impacted agri-food systems, markets and value chains. The impact of the pandemic has been particularly felt by the cross border and informal markets as well as Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs), which are important value chain actors of Africa’s agricultural commodity trade.

The majority of Eastern Africa’s poor live in rural areas and depend on rain-fed agriculture and related activities as a source of livelihood. The rural agricultural sector is also an important source of employment and income, particularly for rural and peri-urban communities.

According to FAO’s Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), key pastoral and agro-pastoral areas in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are experiencing a third consecutive below-average rainfall season, leading to serious drought conditions.

Delayed rainfall and inadequate rains during critical stages of crop and pasture germination and development will cause significant losses to crop and rangeland production. There are reports of livestock deaths from starvation and disease in Northern Kenya, Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, especially among cattle and sheep. Given the severity of the drought condition, many pastoral and agro-pastoral households, especially poor families, are unable to afford basic staple foods and water for both their families and livestock.

As the impact of the re-enforcing shocks of drought, desert locusts, Covid-19, conflicts and civil insecurity is raging in the region, the livelihoods of rural communities especially people living in cross-border areas are severely affected. Without urgent, regionally owned and coordinated responses, natural and man-made disasters will continue to negatively impact on food security and nutrition, peace and stability hence slowing down the progress made towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG Goal 1 which commits to ending poverty in all its forms and, SDG Goal 2 on achieving zero hunger.

Governments in the region must utilize available early warning information to support early action efforts and in so doing, be prepared and responsive before the predictable droughts and other hazards become emergencies. Early warning systems at both regional and national levels indicate a pattern on the most common recurrent shocks in Eastern Africa region, hence it is not a question of if or whether these shocks will reoccur, but of when they occur. While external assistance from development and resource partners is always welcome, governments in the region should own the problem, prepare for it and respond accordingly.

Member states should collaborate closely and provide regional leadership, by allocating domestic resources; they should integrate the Disaster Risk reduction and preparedness into their respective national development plans. Nationally owned contingency plans like food and feed reserves and drought funds for quick deployment is critical to people’s save lives and livelihoods.

Lasting solutions to the recurrent and multiple shocks in this region may also include a well thought nationally owned and led social protection and other safety net programs to enhance household and community resilience; holistic programmatic approaches with short, medium and long-term dimensions. For small-scale producers, women and rural youth in this region, access to affordable credit and finance schemes is crucial; farm inputs, training and skills development on aspects such as crop diversification, seeds of drought tolerant varieties, adaptation and climate smart agricultural practices as well as improved farming technologies are vital.

Proactive as opposed to reactive responses to crises will enable governments in the Eastern Africa region to mitigate threats to natural and man-made disasters, and better manage the impact of the recurrent shocks and emergencies, which have become a norm in the region.


Mohamed Aw-Dahir* is a Senior Officer (Program and Partnership) for FAO Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa.

[Featured Photo credit : FAO/Michael Tewelde] 


Editor’s note: The article reflects the authors’ opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of EM News.