Saturday, September 26, 2015

Another Crisis Looming

In the remote village of Akuyam, Uganda, Ann Alinga, a mother of five is now plucking wild fruits in a desperate bid to keep her family alive.
“There is nothing to harvest,” the 35-year-old mother said as she surveyed her parched and failing 5-acre farm. “We won’t survive on the shrubs alone.”

In recent seasons, she harvested nearly a ton of grains, enough to her feed her children and raise extra cash for the family’s other needs. But the severity of this year’s drought has written off her sunflower crop and destroyed the harvest across this swath of agricultural land in northern Uganda. For Ann, this year’s drought is only her latest trial. She has only planted crops since her family’s cattle herd was stolen six years ago. She owes a local cooperative about $100 for the seeds that have failed her. She says she has no way to pay it back. After gathering edible leaves and fruits each day to sustain her family, she helps her husband cut and dry brush to sell as firewood, bringing in about 25 cents a day.
“We are so stressed,” Ann Alinga says. “My children may even starve.”

“This would be a harvesting period, but look at what’s there: nothing,” said John Lorot, a council leader near Akuyam. “People need relief food and the time to act is now, not later.”

The damage to food production is spreading across the continent: From Angola to Zimbabwe, officials say more than 30 million Africans will need help to survive the looming tropical dry season after the worst droughts since 1992 slashed this year’s harvest of such staples as corn, rice and beans by half. For many, the impact of this year’s drought has been the most devastating in living memory. The World Food Program agency said this month that two-thirds of households in the region have run out of the food meant to last them into 2016.

Global market turmoil in recent weeks has sent many African currencies down more than 20% against the U.S. dollar, making imports to the continent more costly than ever. That is creating liquidity crunches in Angola, Zimbabwe and South Sudan that are hurting official efforts to supplement poor harvests and driving the prices of staples foodstuffs higher. Staple grain prices have hit five-year highs, according to U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
“Exchange rates are blowing out. That’s pushing up prices,” said Ferdi Meyer, director of South Africa’s Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Pretoria.

This year, foreign donors are focused on the refugee crisis emanating from Syria and Iraq, making it harder to find funding.
“There’s a lot of need out there,” said David Orr, the United Nations WFP’s spokesman for southern Africa. Since December, the WFP has cut food-aid rations in Africa three times.

“Reducing rations is a last resort to ensure we can continue providing lifesaving support,” said Alice Martin-Daihirou, the U.N. agency’s director for Uganda.

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