Eradicating hunger in West Africa: learning from Brazil

Posted by Jerome Gerard Regional Research and Policy Coordinator, West Africa

21st Feb 2014

Rice project beneficiary Susana Edwards, aged 50 works in her rice fieldin the Pouh Town area of Grand Gedeh county, Liberia. Credit: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam
Next week, see the launch of the West Africa Zero Hunger Initiative in Accra, Ghana. Here, Jérôme Gérard shares his hopes that West Africa can learn from Brazil's strategy which has seen 28 million people escape the cycle of hunger. 

West Africa has historically suffered from chronic food insecurity, punctuated by peaks of acute hunger triggered by extreme weather events: droughts and flooding. Now, the frequency and severity of crises in the region appears to be increasing. In the last 10 years West Africa has experienced severe food crises in 2005, 2008, 2010 and again in 2012. A situation exacerbated by poor governance, under-investment in marginalised areas, unsecured rights on land and natural resources, and almost non- existent social protection systems.

So far the international community has failed to deliver policies to tackle this chronic vulnerability, support populations to develop sustainable livelihoods and build resilient food systems. The regional agricultural policy ECOWAP and the Maputo Declaration are signs of progress, but a strong and inclusive policy initiative to eradicate hunger in the region is still lacking.

Fresh ideas from across the South Atlantic Ocean

A combination of international, bilateral and national initiatives are now linking food security strategies in West Africa with agricultural policies, governance reforms, right to food campaigns and social development initiatives. They are inspired by the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) strategy of Brazil - a food and nutrition security strategy that has allowed 28 million people to escape the cycle of hunger. This and other Latin American experiences have in common support from political will at the highest level and a strong commitment and contribution from civil society.

Oxfam has supported civil society organisations and movements which became key players in the success of the Brazilian Zero Hunger Strategy as well as other similar initiatives in Latin America during the past decade. 

So, what inspiration can we take from their experiences for our work in West Africa?

Empowering women

West African women contribute 80% of staple food production. If they benefited from the same access to productive resources that men have, they would be able to increase the yields from their family run farms by 20 to 30%, and would raise 100 to 150 million people out of hunger.

In October 2013, women activists from Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru) and West Africa (Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo) met in Madrid, as part of the GROW, Campaign for food justice. They shared important learning on how to improve their advocacy to transform the world as active citizens.

Promoting local food

In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, GROW campaigners organised the 'Koudou du Faso', a tremendous festival aimed at promoting local consumption via a national cooking competition and other events. Famous Peruvian chef Flavio Solorzano crossed the ocean to be part of the event and bringing with him his experience of the Mistura Festival in Peru, a major traditional food, local consumption and biodiversity event, supported by the Peruvian authorities and drawing people from all over Latin America.

Engaging civil society

These two encounters of last October recognise the central role of civil society movements in the major change that occurred in Latin America in the past 15 years. Today it seems crucial to facilitate opportunities for West Africa civil society members and their partners to benefit from this creative and transformational energy.

From 24 to 26 February, the West Africa Zero Hunger Initiative will be launched at an event in Ghana by ECOWAS (the Economic Commission of West African States) and FAO (the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization). In the run up to this event, GROW campaigners from Brazil and West Africa have been exploring together how to contribute, as civil society actors, to the emerging Zero Hunger Initiative in West Africa.

One approach is to use and promote the research of Prof Renato S. Maluf and Marília Mendonça Leão into Brazil's experience of building a food and nutrition security system, published on this site this week with a fresh preface from Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur, emphasising the importance of promoting the right to food. The research also includes an editorial from the West Africa members of the GROW Campaign which reviews the lessons from Brazil to question how, and on what specific aspects, their region can be inspired by them.

The population of West Africa is set to double between 2000 and 2030, and become more urban (from 42% to 60%), leading to a 70% increase in the need for food products by 2030. Any food security strategy should improve investment in agricultural production, and ensure strong regulation of food prices in order to reduce dependency on imports and volatile international markets to feed the growing population.

Learning from the Brazilian Fome Zero initiative, should be a good starting point for eradicating hunger in West Africa.

Read more

Download the research report: Effective Public Policies and Active Citizenship: Brazil's experience of building a food and nutrition security system

Main image: Rice project beneficiary Susana Edwards, aged 50 works in her rice field in the Pouh Town area of Grand Gedeh county, Liberia. Credit: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam


Blog post written by Jerome Gerard

Regional Research and Policy Coordinator, West Africa

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Jérôme Gérard