UN: West and Central Africa Need Investment, Contingency Planning

By Nico Colombant
16 October 2006
Rains have been better than in previous years in West and Central Africa, meaning food shortages in the coming months will be lessened. But as the region marks World Food Day, U.N experts say more private investment is needed in agriculture, as well as better contingency planning. Conflict areas also still pose a problem.


U.N. officials say hunger kills more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

They also say the world produces enough food to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,700 calories a day, enough to be healthy. 

This year, an official for the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, Michael Wales, says increased attention should be put on increasing private investment in local agriculture.

He said, "Normally, when talking about investments, everyone thinks about official development, that is the World Bank, the bilateral donors, USAID, and so on, whereas if you look at all the figures you see that clearly these official development assistance figures are really rather small."

Wales says African governments must also help in making sure more focus is given to the private sector, rather than repeating programs of the past, or just saying they will develop the private sector and never actually doing it efficiently.

"In quite a lot of countries, there has been a long history of state control, even state production . And, they are reluctant to give up all these things and to allow the private sector to have its own initiative to promote entrepreneurship to facilitate access to credit for example. All these things are very long and very difficult to encourage and yet this is the only way that private sector investment will be able to take off," he said.

In terms of emergency situations, an official with the World Food Program, Paul Ares, says better local preparedness is crucial. Poor rains in 2004 and 2005 led to food shortages, leaving certain countries, like Niger, much worse off than others. 

He said, "What we may have learned from the crisis in Niger is that had there been better management of stockpiles, better management of a contingency plan, when that drought did hit, maybe a lot more people would have been less affected. Other countries in West Africa who did manage their contingency stocks or did have some were able to cope better than other countries."

In the region, the World Food Program is examining the situation in northwestern Central African Republic where a state of lawlessness and the presence of rebels is leading to recurrent movements of population, as well as apparent food shortages.

The U.N. body recently rolled out nearly 600 tons of food to isolated parts of the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo to help more than 200,000 people get food aid there in a region also wracked by violence.