New ‘Green Revolution’ needed to combat hunger in Africa, UN relief chief says

John Holmes, USG for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

1 October 2008 – A new Green Revolution is urgently needed in Africa to curb the suffering of the most vulnerable people, according to the top United Nations relief official, who recently saw first-hand how the current dire food crisis is affecting Ethiopia.

Unlike the “epic, largely man-made famine” the country faced over two decades ago, the current situation in the Horn of Africa affecting 16 million people offers “a glimpse of what much of our world might be like if we do not deal effectively with the huge challenges of rising food and fuel prices, climate change, environmental stress and population pressures,” John Holmes wrote in an op-ed column published in yesterday’s Washington Times.

“Great swathes of the developing world could be pushed to the margins of survival,” he cautioned.

Both short- and long-term strategies are needed to address the problem, wrote Mr. Holmes, who serves both as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and as Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“Africa, and Ethiopia, need a new Green Revolution – one that is agriculturally productive, economically profitable and environmentally sustainable,” the column noted.

“The time to do it is now, before the effects of rising population, more erratic weather, commodity price shocks and depleting fossil fuel resources cause further massive suffering for the world’s poorest.”

In Ethiopia alone, more than 6 million people need emergency food aid due to the failure of this year’s harvest, triggered by yet another drought. The situation has been exacerbated by both skyrocketing food prices, which have shot up 500 per cent in some parts of the country since last year, and conflict, which has thwarted the largely pastoralist population from selling their animals and purchasing food.

Short-run measures to alleviate the crisis in Ethiopia must include cooperation between the Government and relief organizations and increased donor support, the Coordinator said.

“But we must not stop there,” he wrote. “Beyond food aid for today, we above all need to help people feed themselves tomorrow.”

To this end, Mr. Holmes said that greater emphasis must be placed on reducing the impact of climate-induced crises.

He also urged greater investments in developing countries’ agricultural sectors “to reverse the neglect” of the past three decades. “Well-targeted investments can make a life-changing difference,” he said, pointing to examples such as better drought management techniques, crop adaptation and improved access to credit.


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