Experts Discuss Food Insecurity in the Horn of Africa

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 03/14/2012

ViceAdmiralAnnRondeauView Photos of This Event.
Government, academic, and civil society speakers presented a range of insights into the human, political, and military implications of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa during a conference at National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012.

The Center for Technology and National Security Policy hosted the “Horn of Africa Food Security Crisis: Implications for U.S. Africa Command” event, whose goal was to understand better how USAFRICOM can improve interactions with NGOs, international organizations, and other nontraditional stakeholders. More than 180 military and civilian personnel, journalists, and experts from nonprofits and academia attended the full-day conference.

“The United States has a vested interest in the stability, prosperity, health, and wealth of the Horn of Africa region,” said NDU President Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau during her opening remarks. “What makes people feel secure goes the whole span of human wants. In today’s world, we can look at [these wants and security] as being interconnected.”

Panel 1: Political and Security Issues in the Horn of Africa
Moderator: Ambassador William Garvelink.  Panelists: Ambassador Richard Roth – Ambassador David Shinn – Mrs Amanda Dory – Ms Rajakumari Jandhyala

USAFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham gave the day’s keynote address on how the regional military headquarters can help mitigate food emergencies. Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, also spoke about bridging the divide between development workers and the military. Ambassador William M. Bellamy, Director of Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), moderated a panel on USAFRICOM’s methods for confronting humanitarian crises. The group explored how USAFRICOM’s mission—especially in the Horn of Africa—has evolved in light of recent developments, what roles the command can play in meeting humanitarian crises, and the challenges in meeting these demands.

Other panels focused on political, security, and environmental issues; open information sharing; and NGOs, international organizations, and their roles in local capacity building.

Ambassador William Garvelink, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic International Studies, said food security issues face nearly every country in the Horn. “Food security is going to get worse in the Horn before it gets better,” he said when introducing the panel that explored political and security issues related to food in the region.

Ambassador David Shinn, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, made three points to provide context in discussing the region’s food security problems.

First, he said, governments and non-state actors use food as a weapon. From warlords stealing food from communities to governments and insurgents not allowing food to reach those who need it, citizens in the horn have been denied food in the pursuit of political goals. Second, for decades countries in the region have experienced “structural food deficits” where domestic production does not meet daily caloric demand. Third, predictions relaying the possible human toll of droughts and famines are often wildly misstated due to those with stakes in the response who cannot help but color statistics.

Many of the day’s speakers used East Africa’s most recent drought to speak about lingering challenges to responding to large-scale disasters and disruptions to food production and distribution. The drought occurred during the latter half of 2011 and put nearly 11 million people in need of emergency assistance. It became a famine in southern Somalia due to meddling by the al Shabab insurgency. Tens of thousands died of malnutrition. Ambassador Richard Roth, Senior Advisor to Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, said the United States has so far provided $934 million in aid to counter the drought and famine.

AmandaDoryAmanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, said the combination of population growth, urbanization, and anticipated climate changes leading to hotter and drier conditions in the northern and southern regions of the continent require that African nations and the international community get better at predicting and responding to food supply crises. She said projects are underway to build systems that measure vulnerabilities, to conduct social science research to improve the response once an emergency occurs, and to find solutions through dialog.

“The Department of Defense has a great logistics capability and we benefit from the experience of the UN family and NGOs,” Dory said. “ACSS engages countries in dialog that has longer-term dividends that we should endeavor to maintain. But there is still a lot of work ahead for African nations, the United States, and for international partners.”