Every year on 16 October, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) celebrates World Food Day (WFD) to commemorate the founding of the organization in 1945. Events are organized in over 150 countries across the world, making it one of the most celebrated days of the UN calendar. These events promote worldwide awareness of those suffering from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. WFD shares the message that world hunger can end in this lifetime and that the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) vision of a “Zero Hunger Generation” is possible.
In September 2015, 193 countries attending the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York adopted Agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs. Countries pledged to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. However, many goals, such as good health and quality education, cannot be achieved without first addressing poverty and hunger.
WFD is particularly important because, although food is a fundamental human right, millions of people around the world remain prone to hunger and malnutrition. The UN World Food Program (WFP) released research results to coincide with WFD, which shows food has become less affordable in countries that are in conflict or subject to political instability. In dozens of countries, persistently high food costs have put the possibility of nutritious meals beyond the reach of millions.
In today’s world, where there is enough food produced for everyone, one in nine people still suffers from chronic hunger. As well, a 2017 FAO report found that more than 815 million people suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2016, up 38 million from 2015. Over half of these people live in countries affected by conflict. In addition, some 155 million children under five are stunted, while approximately 60% of those afflicted with hungry are women. Hunger kills more people every year than malaria, TB, and AIDS combined, while current estimates suggest that agricultural production must rise by about 60% by 2050 in order to feed a larger and generally wealthier global population (FAO 2018). In Eritrea, WFD was commemorated on 16 October in Embaderho at an event organized by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and other partners. Celebrated under the theme “Our Actions are Our Future”, the event was attended by government officials, representatives of UN agencies, farmers, Hdri cultural group members, and other partners.
Ms. Miriam Tesfaldet, local officer of the WFP, said that conflict and instability continue to increase already inflated food costs, putting the possibility of a nutritious plat of food beyond the reach of millions. She also outlined how other factors, such as climate change and natural disasters, can impact food prices.
“When food becomes unaffordable, children are robbed of the nutritional meals essential for them to develop into healthy and productive adults. It prevents communities and whole societies from fulfilling their potential and breaking out of the poverty track,” stated Ms. Miriam.
She also emphasized that tackling high food prices and promoting agricultural productivity made economic sense, since they can save governments billions of dollars and can make the efforts of the WFP and other UN humanitarian agencies more effective.
In her remarks, Ms. Susan Namondi Ngongi, the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP representative in Eritrea, noted that, “both SDG 1, aiming to eliminate poverty, and SDG 2, targeting zero hunger, are significant priorities to mark the day.”
“We acknowledge that poverty is more than the lack of income and resources for sustainable livelihood. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, and limited access to education or other basic services. Over the years, the UNDP has worked closely with the Government of the State of Eritrea to promote food security and generate income for many households,” she added.
The Government of Eritrea regards food security as a national priority, and it aims to ensure that all Eritreans have sufficient quantities of quality food at an affordable price, regardless of where they live.
During his keynote address, Mr. Arefaine Berhe, Minister of Agriculture, described how world leaders met in 1996 and 2001 to reduce the number of hungry people around the globe by half in 2015. However, this proved to be an abject failure.
“Considering this background, the Government of Eritrea is closely working with different actors, including small hold farmers, small and medium commercial farmers, the Crop and Livestock Corporation, research and education institutions, extension networks, development partners, the private sector, and the media, in order to ensure a ‘zero hunger’ society where no one is left behind come 2030,” he stated.
He went on to reveal that Eritrea is on track to meet SDG 2, which aims for zero hunger, through a focus on intensification, integration, and value addition.
The global goal to achieve ‘zero hunger’ by 2030 cannot be attained without considering the connections between food security and rural development. With an estimated 60-70% of Eritrea’s population dependent on subsistence agriculture, it is imperative that farm productivity be improved through diversification of high value commodities and improved technologies. Productivity at farm level has historically been low because of the predominance of subsistence farming, unpredictable rainfall and drought, and the lack of modern technologies and inputs. In general, food production has not kept pace with the needs of the country. However, as a result of the efforts of the Government and various partners, there has been a significant increase in agricultural productivity over the past several years. Moving forward, boosting farm productivity will promote food and nutritional security, increase income and employment for many households, provide marketable surplus for urban dwellers, and raise possibilities for export/cash crop production for industry and trade.
Farm production systems in Eritrea are varied. They include: rain-fed cereal/pulse systems; irrigated horticultural systems; semi-commercial peri-urban livestock (dairy and poultry); agro-pastoralist systems; nomadic-pastoralist systems; semi-sedentary crop-livestock mixed systems; and some commercial farming.
The majority of Eritrean farmers in the highlands practise rain-fed crop production methods and have a small number of livestock. However, their ability to meeting increased food requirements at the household level has been very limited. Farmers generally produce about 60-70% of their annual food requirements, although during particularly “good” years the figure may be much higher. The remaining 30- 40% of requirements is covered by selling their animals or through other activities, such as growing horticultural crops.
In order to address this issue, the MoA has adopted the Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package (MIHAP). This initiative provides certain categories of farmers with improved seeds and crossbred livestock. This package can help farmers meet food and nutrition requirements of their households, while also helping them increase their income through surplus production.
Mr. Arefaine indicated that for other categories of farmers, the Ministry has embarked on an ambitious program involving the multiplication of improved seeds, like wheat, sorghum, pearl millet, and potatoes, in order to enhance overall productivity. As well, “farmer field schools” have been established, allowing farmers to share experiences and also learn from extension agents assigned by the MoA. Finally, a number of other ministries, institutions, and partners have worked closely with farmers to increase agricultural productivity and promote food security.
Within a short period of time, Eritrea has greatly improved its agricultural productivity. Moving forward, renewed efforts and further commitments will be required to ensure a society with zero hunger.