Reading the different reports on hunger and food crisis, it is evident that we are facing a long-lasting global food crisis. There have been improvements and setbacks, but humanity loses each year millions of souls. Concerning hunger, the document of the pontifical council “Cor Unum”[1] back in 1996, stated “The challenge facing the whole of humanity today is certainly economic and technological in character, but it is more specifically an ethical, spiritual and political challenge”.

When such a tragedy is lasts so long, its ethical scope becomes bigger. Nonetheless, the danger of getting used to it, or pretending to ignore it or even of being demoralized it also increase. And politically, hunger is often drops down the list of priorities in favor of other problems that may not be of the same importance and are definitely not as silent. Because hunger and malnutrition are a silent crisis unless the voice of fraternity and justice is raised to advocate for those who suffer them.

To go by its statements[2], the European Commission is committed to tackling the underlying root causes of famine and to seek more sustainable and long-lasting solutions.  But there are no spectacular results in this regard. On the contrary, more people are in need of food aid and for longer periods.

According to the Global report on food crises published by the food security information network,[3] extreme climate events were major triggers of food crises in 23 countries with over 39 million food-insecure people in need of urgent assistance in 2017. Two-thirds of these countries were in Africa, where almost 32 million people faced crisis conditions of acute food insecurity or worse, caused by drought or other climate shocks. Prolonged drought conditions also resulted in consecutive poor harvests in countries already facing high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa. North-East states of Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia have experienced significant acute food insecurity and malnutrition. Western African and Sahel countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal are also expected to face increased food insecurity in pastoral areas due to the lingering effects of dry weather in 2017. Cape Verde has reported almost no harvests for the 2017/18 agricultural season because of a severe drought.

Adverse conditions affecting most vulnerable people

Climate conditions are not only variable because of climate change and can determine a good agricultural season or a period of food insecurity. Even with normal rainfall, subsistence agriculture might mean that in dry seasons family could be reduced to one meal per day. Malnutrition is mainly due to poor access to enough and nutritious food but it is also related to other factors as the lack of access to safe water, sanitation, health care and education. Difficulties in marketing agriculture products in isolated rural places because of bad and unmaintained roads are also a major factor, while selling these kinds of products is the only way to generate some income for health care or other basic needs. The scarcity or absence of any of them contributes to malnutrition in a community and the absence of all of them makes malnutrition highly probable. When food stocks become meagre it is often too late. The condition of women is also crucial. If they are malnourished this affects the family and society, especially malnutrition among the children. The moral damage felt by parents who are no longer able to cover the food needs of their family is also worth taking into account. It is therefore important to combine food assistance and supporting agricultural local systems when responding to emergencies and to prevent starvation when highly vulnerable population are at risk.

Effectiveness of land rights

In these contexts, it is unthinkable to talk about legalizing their properties which would mean starting administrative paperwork in distant cities. Nor can people be persuaded to stay in their ancestors’ land rather than leave for another region in search of job opportunities. People living in acute poverty generally perceive themselves as being deprived of voice and power, easy prey of exploitation, misinformation or intimidation. African countries might develop policies that facilitate and promote respect of the land rights of these individuals and communities and try to enable the rural population to stay at home. Since 2012, we all have the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. They are a good instrument to monitor and guide our governments in their obligations towards land tenants.[4] Regrettably, it is not a compulsory legal instrument but we could still use it more often to remind our governments of what they should and should not do concerning legal recognition of tenure rights and duties. The voluntary guidelines pay special attention to Indigenous peoples and other communities with customary tenure systems and to Informal tenure.

Political will and appropriate policies to end hunger in Africa

The extent of hunger in Africa deserves a decisive, comprehensive and honest response from those who have the means to solve it: States and international organisations. Far from that, African governments seem to keep on planning concessions of agro-industrial parks, giving into the different tempting international finance opportunities and initiatives. This initiatives are driven by developed countries which should also follow the voluntary guidelines. Last February 2018, the withdrawal of France from the vastly criticized New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition[5] seemed to open a wedge between western allies in spreading agrifood policies in Africa. We don’t know if this decision is going to become a trend but until now the EU as a whole is part of this flagship initiative. Additionally, continuous appeals to public-private partnerships as the main solution and funding opportunity is not reassuring at all, particularly when we have in mind the special needs of the most vulnerable. Public-private partnership,[6] as is being reported again and again, has often had awful consequences for vulnerable people in the rural world.

Considering most vulnerable small farmers

Bearing in mind the living conditions and constraints of the most vulnerable people in African rural areas, and if we truly want to enhance them and fulfil the peoples human dignity, we must promote and strengthen their current livelihood. This is mainly agriculture and small scale trade in agriculture products. To do this, agribusiness is not at all the solution, not for most vulnerable African people. We should empower local communities at risk of hunger to improve their food production and prevent them from despair by recognising the value of their desire to feed their families and to take care of their land and the environment. We should be listening to them attentively than telling them what to do or promising them future development betraying them into eviction, taking their land, one of their most valuable possessions. Access to land must be assured especially to women and youth.  They can be empowered to profit from their own resources, skills and capacities instead of being forced to buy seeds, fertilizers and machinery elsewhere with money they do not have. Finally, we could come closer and make their concerns ours, letting their land remain theirs.

[1] Word Hunger a challenge for all: Development in solidarity. Document of the pontifical council “Cor Unum”. Cor unum merged with others pontifical councils in the Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development instituted in 2017.


[3] Global report on food crises of the food security information network

[4] Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security

[5] NAFSN or New Alliance is an initiative born in G8 group in 2012

[6] Public-private partnership or PPP is becoming a new formula pretending to fill the gap of insufficient ODA through welcoming the engagement of companies in development aid and stressing the benefits of this collaboration.