Once again, the Sahel’s lean season (the period after farmers invest in planting but before they reap the benefits of harvest) is in full swing, and has pushed more people into a dire situation than ever before. After almost a year of crisis in the Sahel, 18.7 million people in more than 9 countries have faced empty plates and depleted grain sacks, and more than 1 million children are still at risk of severe acute malnutrition. But harvest begins very soon, and we see signs that things are looking up in the Sahel:
1. Good harvests expected. The UN’s coordination unit reports that food insecurity and malnutrition is likely to ease in October with the first harvests and a subsequent drop in food prices. What’s more: Rains poured down on Niger starting in August, devastating some fields but providing many other farmers’ crops with the nourishment that that they need.
2. New funding for Burkina Faso’s agriculture plans. US Agency of International Development leader Raj Shah announced the launch of three new G8 New Alliance cooperation frameworks, and Burkina Faso was among them. The other two included Cote d’Ivoire and Mozambique. The New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security is partnership between rich countries, poor countries and the private sector. It has a goal to lift 50 million people out of poverty through agriculture over the next 10 years.
3. African businesses energized. Since May, 21 additional private sector companies, most of them African, have signed letters of intent to invest an additional $500 million in African agriculture through the New Alliance. This signals positive momentum, and the hope is that African businesspeople will “crowd in” investment, to not only make profits, but to jump start opportunity in their home countries. Jobs and incomes are key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
4. Renewed focus for security in Mali. The situation in Mali made it onto the UN’s radar at last week’s General Assembly. After Mali reached an agreement with other nations in West Africa, they called for the UN Security Council to allow military intervention. President Hollande of France echoed this request, and if approved by the UN, France intends to provide support to the nation. However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is cautioning against a military intervention because of the risks it poses to the civilian population. Currently, a regional block of countries is planning to send 3,300 soldiers (mostly from Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Burkina Faso), giving the government of Mali some support to stabilize the situation in the country.
Ban Ki-moon at the UN General Assembly last week. Photo credit: All Africa
5. UN Special Envoy to the Sahel. Also at the UN General Assembly last week, Ban Ki-moon announced an Integrated Regional Strategy on the Sahel and the nomination of a UN Special Envoy for the region. The strategy would combine “strengthening of regional capacities to combat insecurity, prevent and respond to large-scale crises (socially and environmentally) and promote democratic governance and respect for human rights.”
While these 5 factors leave me optimistic, there is still more that we can do. So far in 2012, the US government has contributed $446.5 million in humanitarian assistance for the nine Sahelian countries. This assistance has helped and will continue to help vulnerable people weather the crisis, but it is vital that we lay the right foundation for lasting change in the Sahel -– a complex and sometimes insecure region that has plunged into crisis for the third time in under a decade.
In addition to encouraging peace, the US should support the six countries in the Sahel region that already have medium-term, vetted agriculture plans to give people the tools they need to lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty. In particular, the US government should continue to broker compacts under the New Alliance.
On Friday, ONE delivered a petition to Raj Shah, the administrator for US development assistance, asking him to scale the New Alliance up to 15 countries by the end of this year and 30 by the end of next year. Encourage him further by tweeting the message below:
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