22 Feb, 2019

Africa Must Feed Itself: Interview with Million Belay

Africa is rich in natural resources and has the capability to feed itself. What accounts for this failure? It’s a toxic combination of poor governance, gender inequality, corruption and climate change, according to Million Belay, Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, Member of the Advisory Board and Coordinator of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

What factors feed migration of Africans to Europe?

Starting with bad governance. Countries which are the main source of migrants are rich in natural resources. Due to ethnic-based politics, nepotism and corruption, governments do not function properly. This is a fundamental reason for migration.

Specific issues drive Africans from the countryside. There are armed conflicts. There is drought and famine. There’s climate change.

It is not the poor who are leaving. Potential migrants must pay a lot of money to criminal traffickers to migrate. A cash-strapped poor person cannot pay. It is those who have money that migrate, out of lack of opportunities, while African media depicts life in the West as alluring, glittering and shiny. We much address this problem of youthful aspiration.

Are there exceptions – some African countries which are doing well?

The best practice that I can mention in Africa is Uganda. It has allowed migrants to work in the country. Migrants bring much-needed skills. They help bridge the capacity gap and participate in the development of the country.

Another positive sign is in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian parliament passed a law recently to allow migrants to live and work in the country.

How is your organization AFSA working on to help solve this problem?

AFSA supports agro-ecology, the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture. Industrial agriculture has caused so much harm in Africa. It produces poor nutrition food. It erodes the environment. And it destroys the local culture.

We have documented agroecological practices in Africa to promote and advocate for agriculture which is beneficial to people and nature. We support small-scale farmers producing local crops. Instead of using chemicals, we promote compost. In Ethiopia the Institute for Sustainable Development have successfully experimented on ecological agriculture and scaled it up to a nation-wide basis.

In Malawa, we promote a project which helps women farmers farm 600 different varieties of local plants.

In other projects, we promote the linkage of farmers with consumers, investing in distribution systems. A farmer in Togo recently told me that he produces twice as much food on his farm than farmers supported by government-led extension. The techniques are out there and what they need is policy and research support, and linkages with markets. We can feed ourselves while protecting our health and cultural values as well as the environment surrounding us.

What is the role for Europe, if any?

In some instances, Europe supports rogue governments, encourages corruption and contributes to climate change, Europe has contributed to the migration crisis in Africa. Some also blame the colonial history where African governments inherited Western model of governance, which did not grow from the experience of Africa. Europe has both the moral and practical responsibility to support African governments to tackle migration.

What are the major impacts of climate change on the food insecurity-migration nexus?

Climate change will create additional challenges. There will be hunger and poverty at a higher scale. Internal displacement and migration will intensify. Climate change will also create conflict between countries in Africa, driving more Africans to migrate to the North.

What are your recommendations to avoid this apocalypse?

We need to improve governance. We need to provide education on healthy and nutritious food to consumers. We need to promote agroecology if we want to increase yield without compromising nutrition, health, the well-being of the environment and cultural values.

We must identify and protect areas of crop diversity and their wild relatives. We must not endorse artificial intelligence (AI) based technologies without a thorough understanding and public debate about their future impact. We must avoid going the industrial agriculture way as we may find it difficult and costly to change course.

We must control urbanization. Urban areas are marching on in Africa, winning more rural lands and hosting a number of slums.

We need to open up doors to immigrants, both in Africa and the West.

All of us need to work together to attack to the root causes of migration.