Agriculture and food security play a vital role in fighting against poverty and extreme poverty and yet, much needs to be done globally. The UN (2017) declared that about “767 million people live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day” while almost one in 15 children in less developed countries (LDCs) dies before the age of five due to hunger. Undoubtedly, poverty leads to hunger, famine and migration.
The latter has been the focus of this year’s World Food Day observed on October 16th, under the theme “Change the future of migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”. October 17th is also the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty celebrated this year, under the theme of “Answering the Call of October 17 to End Poverty: A Path towards Peaceful and Inclusive Societies”. These two important themes, which are among Eritrea’s top national priorities in its development endeavors, were observed at the Undichismo Recreation Center in Emba Derho, Serejeqa subzone – Central region, on Monday the 16th of October.
The green scenery decorated by banners showcasing agriculture-related activities led by the Ministry of Agriculture and guests had the honor of meeting local farmers in honey, poultry, meat, cheese and vegetables agri-businesses. Guests were also given tips and ideas on how to grow one’s own food known as “do it yourself”, displayed by Mr. Redaezgi Ghebremedhin. An Eritrean who used to live in diaspora and is now teaching youngsters in Shiketi, “how to grow food for yourself and your community”. He exhibited samples of his plants as well as a banner written “Feed Yourself: Family-based Food Production” and drawing of the traditional mosob, a symbol of sharing. He grew vegetables in recycled pots and his house has hundreds of them. Mr. Redaezgi’s display was the message of this year’s campaign as part of solution to eradicate poverty and ensure food security.
The official ceremony chaired by Mr. Amanuel Negassi, adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, was held in a traditional house, hudmo, made of wood and clay. Ministers, PFDJ officials, members of the subzone’s governorate, diplomatic corps, UN agencies, national civil societies, the press and farmers’ communities were present. Two children opened the ceremony with a short play around the theme of food and the meaning of eating. Their message focused on how to get food by growing it yourself and, subsequently, to develop yourself. Their show was followed by a song in Tigrinya by teens from the Hidri Cultural troupe, wearing the traditional Tigrinya outfit. Natnael Dawit, a young boy who called himself the Minister of Children, impressed the crowd with his speech in English. His message targeted adults and reminded them of their responsibility to do their duties of providing food security and fighting poverty. He ended his speech by saying that “I cannot wait until 2030 to achieve these goals, by then I will already be in my twenties”. A clear message echoed by the speeches of the day. His message came at a critical juncture as the statistics on poverty show. According to UNICEF, about 22,000 children die every day due to poverty while 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.
Ms. Susan Namondi Ngongi, Resident Humanitarian Coordinator/UNDP Representative in Eritrea, gave a speech highlighting the need to work continuously in eradicating poverty by involving the poor in any decision that affects their lives. Surely, the eradication of poverty goes in line with ensuring food security, and it can be achieved by ensuring that those communities affected by poverty are included in decision making, she said. She also mentioned the great endeavors made by the Ministry of Agriculture and other government bodies toward working in the achievement of the 2017-2021 Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF), signed between the Government of Eritrea and the UN. The SPCF focuses on (1) basic social services; (2) environmental sustainability, resilience and disaster risk management; (3) public sector capacity development; and (4) inclusive growth, food security and sustainable livelihoods. The latter was enhanced in Ms. Susan’s speech. She also said that the impact of variability on agricultural activities due to climate change deserves a strong focus.
Eritrea, with its partners, is working on the SDG 1: End Poverty in all its forms, as the “cornerstone of development agenda” Ms. Susan added. Accordingly, the UNDP and other UN agencies operating Eritrea are providing expertise and technical assistance in implementing programs to eradicate poverty. She congratulated Eritrea for its great achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the developments towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The speech on behalf of the World Food Program (WFP) representative in Eritrea was given by Ms. Miriam Tesfaledet, officer in charge. She emphasized on the importance of ensuring food and nutrition as key component of development. “Hunger continues to cause conflicts and displacement”, she added.
Ms. Bui Thi Lan, representative of Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Eritrea, said in reference to young Natnael that the world should not wait till 2030 to fight against hunger and instead invest in food security and rural development as one of the root causes of migration. As stated by the FAO (2017), migration is a phenomenon intertwined with social and economic development. During the year 2015, about 65.3 million people were forced to flee globally due to conflict while 19 million were made internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to natural disasters (FAO 2017:2). Ms. Bui Thi Lan put greater emphasis on the issue of migration and its linkage to other factors of poverty and, in particular, issues related to food insecurities pushing populations to look for greener pasture. The FAO gives priorities to “harnessing the potential of migration for agriculture and rural development” (FAO 2017:4). Hence, the organization, UNDP and WFP in Eritrea are working in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to give technical assistance and support programs related to food security and rural development.
The ceremony continued with a keynote speech by Minister Arefaine Berhe of Agriculture who highlighted the national priorities concentrating on rural development and throughout the country as a key component of Eritrea’s policies. The Minister focuses on soil and water conservation and ensuring that health and education facilities are located close to water points nationwide. Minister Arefaine continued by explaining the importance of enhancing agricultural activities to ensure food security and fight poverty to curb migration.
“Lack of agricultural sustainability continues to push rural communities to urban settings”, said Minister Arefaine. On the day, the Ministry of Agriculture distributed a leaflet entitled Food and Nutrition Security and Rural Development in Eritrea: Strategy and Actions Underway, highlighting key programs focusing on food and nutrition security, rural development and migration. These are at the top of the agenda by the international community and Eritrea, is working on ways to promote agricultural production by small scale farmers. As Mr. Redaezgi, showed “growing your own food” and how it has the trickle-down effect of securing food for the household and simultaneously creating an income-generating activity.
Different programs are underway in the country. Land Sustainable Management (SLM), for instance, is a comprehensive approach that includes water and soil conservation combined with livestock, farming, grazing and afforestation. Under the SLM, in the Central region, about 118 water dams have been built contributing to about 1200-2000 hectares of fruit and vegetable farms while more than 2.3 million trees have been planted since 2010.
The development of livestock, diversifying sources of income by introducing the Minimum Integrated Household Package (MIHP) is another ongoing program. It allows farmers to vary their activities including the production of cereals, irrigated horticulture, livestock (dairy/poultry) among others (MoA 2017:7). The package gives initial incentives to farmers which includes a cross-breed dairy cow, 6 goats, 25 chicken, 2 beehives, a vegetable plot and 20 trees in addition to a parcel of land for crop production and forage (MoA 2017:8). The comprehensive approach has shown positive results in some of the most remote areas such as Habero subzone in the Anseba region.
These samples of the work that are in progress under the leadership of the Ministry and in partnership with UN agencies operating in the country, are bearing results, and, they reflect the national commitment to protect this basic of human rights, i.e. the right to food and, consequently, working to eradicate poverty.
To engage local communities further, vocational training and tertiary education in the field of agriculture is promoted nationwide, said Mr. Semere Amlesom, Dean of Hamelmalo College of Agriculture. He talked about the great work ahead in terms of attracting human resources in this field, teaching how to generate income combined with technical and entrepreneurial skills. “It is a collective work, we work together, we eat together, we live together”, said one of the farmers during the ceremony. The words of the farmer attracted the day’s attention. To thanks the exemplary farmers, certificates of appreciation were given to exemplary farmers such as Mrs. Azieb Tsegay, owner of Azieb dairy farm, by the Minister of Agriculture. The Women Farmers Association, others working in poultry farming, meat and hone productions were also recognized.
The morning ended with series of presentations by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture in different agricultural activities showcasing statistical and cartographic representation such as land degradation neutrality, a strategy for environmental recovery, conservation towards rehabilitation and development of agriculture. Another interesting project was also presented in partnership with the European Union (EU), which focused on four areas – sustainable water management and natural resources management, food marketing, post-harvest and agro processing. The project is worth more than 30 million Euros that has been going since 2013. As part of the project, a potato seed store, with a capacity of 4,000 quintals, has been constructed in Mendefera -Southern region. Other programs aim at the empowerment of women in rural areas with, for instance, the provision of 10 sheep to women-headed households, teaching new skills in mushroom farming, beekeeping or flower production mostly based in rural areas.
“Feed yourself by growing your own food” was the motto of the day and for the occasion of both the World Food Day and the International Eradication of Poverty the organizing committee provided local and healthy food to guests. Farmers displayed their products for tasting; different varieties of cheese, bacon, sausages and honey were on display and many participants took the opportunity to buy some while enjoying a cup of traditional coffee.