In the eastern Horn of Africa, a massive drought has left over 11 million people vulnerable to severe food insecurity and in need of emergency assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with the international community to ensure that critical assistance is mobilized to support those in need. But emergency assistance alone cannot solve the underlying causes of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Severe food insecurity in this part of the world is driven by cyclical drought, poor land management practices, limited availability of animal health services, food inflation, conflict over land and water, poor hygiene practices, and lack of dietary diversity. This is why my colleagues and I are so passionate about supporting Feed the Future, the U.S. government initiative to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.
In July, I visited the region and areas in Kenya where Feed the Future is focusing investments to sustainably address these challenges in the long term. As I traveled though the North Eastern province of Kenya, I met with local families, farmers, and livestock dealers; it was clear that they are facing serious threats to their livelihoods. One family from the Mwingi region reported that it has not rained since last year and that there has not been a harvest since 2009. They fortunately have a water source so they aren't extremely food insecure -- yet. If the drought continues, this region is in danger of becoming severely food insecure, with dire consequences for its people.
With the frequency of droughts increasing over the last decade, it's become increasingly difficult for people to recover from one shock before another one strikes. Such shocks drive conflict over land and water, disrupt economic activity, and leave young men vulnerable to unemployment and recruitment into extremist groups, like al-Shabaab. In such volatile conditions, food insecurity looms as an ever-present threat. Yet even under severe circumstances, there are clear signs of the population's resilience and determination. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Asha Adan Khalif, a mango producer and one of several women serving on a leadership committee for a communal farm in the North Eastern province. The farm consists mostly of former livestock herders (pastoralists) who were forced to “drop out” of pastoralism after their livestock perished in prior droughts. Since then, they have successfully converted to farming, with many of them exporting produce to the Middle East. A third of the households on this farm are headed by women (who are the ones most often acutely affected by food insecurity) and the community includes a broad mix of families from different ethnic groups. It was heartening to see how women's leadership on this communal farm has contributed to diversity, security, and productivity among those families most vulnerable to the drought.
Our efforts through Feed the Future will be critical in the coming years to achieve sustainable food security for families like those I met in Kenya. In particular, Feed the Future's work on developing drought-tolerant crops and promoting more efficient water management in Kenya will directly and positively impact incomes in the region and help to build household resiliency. Other long term efforts to strengthen Kenya's livestock market, improve livestock management, expand economic access and alternative livelihoods for women, and improve nutrition are just some of the ways in which Feed the Future can contribute to regional stability and support sustainable food security. Already there are key interventions taking place on the ground, such as the Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program, which is enhancing productivity and market competitiveness of livestock in Kenya to increase production for local consumption and marketing, and export trade.
As these kinds of programs become increasingly effective over time, USAID and its partners are striving to bring such interventions to scale, to ensure that Feed the Future has the greatest possible impact and increases resilience among vulnerable populations.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on USAID's Impact Blog.