To discuss the international concerns of feeding the world’s populations, euronews spoke to Matthias Schmale, a senior official with the Red Cross Federation, also working with the Red Crescent.
Adrian Lancashire, euronews: Last year 19 countries in Africa reported food crises in the previous decade. Twenty years ago it was five countries. The same silent disaster of starvation and lifelong hunger has got worse. Is this because of globalisation or climate change or other causes?
Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General of Programme Services, International Federation of the Red Cross: Well, in our view it is a couple of factors coming together. Probably the most significant one has to do with rising prices and the unpredictability of prices.
An aspect of this is: there is still enough food to feed everyone in the world, so it is obviously not about food production and the availability of food.
It is about available food getting to those who need it. Part of the problem of the 19 countries that you have referred to is that people in rural and urban settings simply cannot afford to buy their basic food in view of the prices, the dramatic price rises we have seen, especially over the past two or three years.
euronews: If I understand correctly, distribution and transportation are key elements?
Schmale: They are key elements, but what we think is — at the end of the day — what we think is: the key element is affordability, and access that way.
For me a striking example that stuck in my mind or experience rather is: many years ago when I was in Ethiopia and travelled into a very remote desert area, people offered me something to drink, and what they had on offer was Pepsi.
What I’m trying to say with this is: logistics and distribution is not an issue. You find luxury goods all over the world, in the most remote parts. It is really about access and creating the right incentives for people to ensure that food is made available to those who need it.
euronews: Saving lives, changing minds” is stated as the Red Cross Federation’s mission. What ideas most need to be worked on?
Schmale: I think the world community and national governments have taken their eyes off the ball in terms of investing in agriculture, and in particular small-scale farming. We need a change of mind here.
euronews: More from among the donor countries or from the receiver countries?
Schmale: On the donor side, we have too many donors still distinguishing between what they call relief and humanitarian aid, and development aid.
It is very clear that if we want to avoid future famines having the dramatic effect we are seeing in the Horn of Africa, we need to invest into longer term development processes.
This requires donors to be flexible, to not just respond to immediate crises but also to invest in longer term disaster preparedness and strengthening of resilience work. So, that’s the donor side.
On the recipient side, clearly governments need to prioritise the support and services to the most vulnerable people in their respective countries and communities.
That has to do on the one hand with creating conducive conditions for agriculture, especially small-scale farming, but it also includes putting into place necessary social safety nets and social service measures to support people who fall between the cracks.