YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Africa is facing a looming food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The continent imported 44 percent of its wheat from the two countries in the period from 2018 to 2020.

The Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis – the confederation of Catholic relief and development agencies – says the situation is worst in the Horn of Africa and arid Sahel region.

“In the Sahel region, more than 12.7 million people are exposed to a high vulnerable situation of hunger as well as exile from their rural homesteads,” said Aloysius John.

He also complained about the the tendency for Africa to keep importing food from the West, and called for Indigenous solutions to the continent’s food crisis.

“Africa has been the dumping site for the surplus of the large-scale industrial production of food in the north,” he told Crux.

“It has not only destroyed the local food supply chain, but it has also destroyed local traditional farming which needs immediate and quick attention,” he explained.

Following are excerpts of that email conversation.

Crux: In a July 18 report, Caritas Internationalis has described the situation of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions as “severe.” Just how severe is the situation?

John: The different countries in the Horn of Africa have a combined population of more than 160 million people, and 45 percent of this population will be affected by food insecurity. These figures already show the severity of this situation and the gravity of the problem.

Today, this “fertile land of the Nile” is worst affected by severe drought and scarce rainfall and, in addition, the grave impacts of this current situation is further compounded by violence and conflict in the region.

Only around 1 percent of the land is irrigated and totally insufficient to feed the population. Food insecurity directly affects children leading to malnutrition and eventually slow death due to hunger. People in these regions are also subject to migration and are on the move. This massive movement of a population, in search of food and fodder for their livestock, are also subject to very harsh conditions.

Extreme weather conditions and conflict has forced people to leave their traditional homelands in search of humanitarian aid or any means to sustain their survival. This population is highly vulnerable, not only socially, but also from the viewpoint of health and hygiene.

Which countries are most affected by food insecurity?

In the Sahel region, more than 12.7 million people are exposed to a highly vulnerable situation of hunger as well as exile from their rural homestead. The countries of concern in 2022 in the Sahel region are Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad, while in the Horn of Africa the countries most exposed are Somalia, Djibouti, South Sudan, Sudan and Ethiopia.

What are the impacts in terms of nutrition and health?

Food insecurity has major impacts on nutrition and health on the most vulnerable and, among the poorest, are children, lactating mothers and elders. In some cases, children are subject to starvation and their whole physical and mental health is affected due to the lack of nutritious food. Pregnant mothers are also subject to lots of risk, including premature birth in highly difficult conditions and child mortality.

This region is also home to terrorism and marauding herdsmen. Is there a link between food insecurity and violence?

One of the striking phenomena is the link between food insecurity, violence, and climate change. They are interlinked. When people find themselves in extreme conditions and highly vulnerable, survival becomes the motivation for any kind of activities and often ends in violence and conflict.

This issue is becoming a major preoccupation for humanitarian actors. Consequently, considering the nature of this developing humanitarian situation, a key challenge in finding the right solutions to address the problems.

What are the major drivers of this problem-food insecurity?

If we look at the present situation of food insecurity there are multiple drivers. First and foremost is climate change and the environmental problems which prevents the rural population from cultivating their land. Another important driver for food insecurity is internal conflict and war, which contribute to people leaving their traditional lands in search of safer places. In some cases, as in the case of Syria, the combination of conflict and climate change drivers oblige people to leave their homes in search of sustainable livelihoods.

A recent Caritas report calls for “the implementation of just food systems – from production to consumption” as “key for the development of Global South nations…’ How unjust has the global food system been and how has that obstructed the development of nations?

Food injustice has been meted out in different forms. Traditional agriculture has been destroyed and replaced by vested interests and market-oriented, large-scale agriculture which is suffering today due to climate change and droughts. Today, it is necessary and urgent to promote traditional farming, cooperatives for creating local supply chains and also changing the food habits, wherein local communities can consume what they produce. For example, in some parts of Africa industrially raised chicken in Brazil is sold for a very low price and local chicken raising is endangered. In the same way, milk and meat production was reduced due to the import of these items from the West.

What should be done now to restore justice to the global food systems?

Africa has been the dumping site for the surplus of the large-scale industrial production of food in the north. It has not only destroyed the local food supply chain, but it has also destroyed local traditional farming which needs immediate and quick attention.

Moreover, the international community must adopt a political will to integrate and mainstream the promotion of traditional food systems and support traditional farming.

It is also equally important to promote and socialize local communities to water harvesting and also natural fertilizers and pest control.

The war in Ukraine has just illustrated how Africa, for instance, remains too dependent on food imports from Ukraine and Russia. For the sake of sustainability, what should the governments and peoples of the global South be doing to take ownership of their food chains?

Today, corrupt governments in Africa and the vested interest of multinational agro-food industries are influencing and working hand-in-hand to promote new consumption models based on Western systems. It is important to develop local agriculture, traditional farming, identify local food habits and mainstream them into development projects.

Creation of local supply chains, local food systems is also capital, and this must be undertaken hand in hand with creation of local cooperatives, promotion of local food systems and putting into value the nutritious values of the traditional food systems.

There is a need for change in the development paradigm – especially in Africa – where development programs must be motivated, built and managed by local communities which are organized beforehand. A community-oriented and community-based development paradigm, which takes into account integral ecology, needs to be developed.

Once local communities are made responsible, they will contribute to and promote local food systems and local supply chains leading to food independence.