The Africa Regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently hosted a one-day expert meeting in Ghana to discuss food security. The meeting was intended provide a forum for collaboration between heads of government departments, donor representatives, civil society organizations, the United Nations, farmer representatives and students. The main discussants were former Ghanaian President, John Kufour and former Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, who are both World Food Prize winners and whose governments were known to have excelled in ensuring food security for their citizens. The two ex-presidents presented their own experiences and insights into effective ways to address food insecurity and hunger.
President Kufour, former President of Ghana, emphasized that supporting food and agricultural sector development, and providing incentives for public investments in the sector, helped spur an average rate of 5.5 % between 2003 and 2008. Reinvigoration of agricultural extension services that focused on educating farmers on best practices were also key elements of growth.
Another initiative that has been credited for this transformation was the creation of the Ghana School Feeding program, which provides one nutritious and locally produced and sourced meal for school children in primary to junior schools (ages 4-14). This program reduced chronic hunger and malnutrition, while improving school attendance. By the end of 2010 almost 1.1 million children were covered by this program. This not only improved the health of these children, it also stimulate agricultural production, which was necessary to supply the program with food. .
The former Brazilian President, Lula Da Silva, who spearheaded the Zero hunger initiative and saw it become one of the most successful food and nutritional security policies in the world, talked about what his government had done to ensure the success of this program. During his presidency Brazil reached MDG 1 (eradication of extreme hunger and poverty) before the 2015 deadline with 93% children and 82% of adults enjoying 3 meals a day while extreme poverty dropped from 12% – 4.8% by 2009.
The President mentioned that one of the things that ensured the programs success, was putting women at the forefront of all the initiatives in Brazil. He said “the woman/mother is responsible for dealing with family issues; I have children and I can attest to this. During my time we built 3 million houses for the poor but made sure the titles were in the names of the women of the households because we believed this is the only way we could guarantee the sustainability of these initiatives.” The president went ahead to say that hunger is the worst crime to humanity and no one should go without a meal in a day. President Lula “with all the food and energy the world produces, no individual should go hungry. Food security is the best weapon a nation can have, no matter what other strength they have, they will lose the battle if they are hungry.”
Food security cannot be achieved in isolation.
Both Presidents emphasized that health, nutrition, social justice, infrastructure and better livelihoods all need to be addressed in order to achieve food security in any country. It requires government commitment coupled with support from the private sector, civil society and the populace. Access to financing for the poor was mentioned as another critical element in ensuring eradication of food insecurity and poverty. In the case of Brazil, the president mentioned the reluctance of banks to lend to the poor, but with concerted efforts and building on informal and traditional saving processes, they were able to open up to 4 million bank accounts for the poor.
Pathways is doing its part by putting women at the heart of its interventions.
The Pathways initiative works with governments to support women farmers and their communities to ensure better and food secure livelihoods. In Ghana, the initiative is supporting on-going government initiatives by collaborating with over 300 women’s groups in the Upper East and Upper West Regions of the country, that are working in the groundnuts and soybean value chains. The program does this by supporting the women’s groups to adopt better production practices and linking production to growth markets. The program also encourages the adoption of sustainable production practices, better nutrition, and equitable access to productive resources to women and to the community at large.