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Namibia can learn from Brazil’s hunger policies

WINDHOEK: On 13 September 2016, the Economic Association of Namibia (EAN) co-hosted a Business Breakfast with the Hanns Seidel Foundation on the state of food security in Namibia. Jennifer Bitonde, Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Namibia, examined how other countries had successfully implemented zero hunger policies and how these might be adapted in Namibia.

andreas160578; PIXABAY

Namibia is the driest country in Sub-Saharan Africa and due to the prevailing drought as well as South Africa’s export policies, the country’s agriculture has been contracting in recent years. Consequently, 596,000 people are at peril of facing hunger, according to a report published by the National Early Warning and Food Information Unit this year. This means that over half a million Namibians lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and for an active and healthy life.  

Klaus Schade, Executive Director of the EAN, stressed that food security is a major policy concern which has been given far too little attention and that there is a need for innovation in agriculture. Nevertheless, in response to the detrimental effect food insecurity is having on the economy, people’s wellbeing, and on children in particular, the Namibian government has slowly begun prioritising the issue and budgeting for more drought relief recently. However, Schade argued, “What’s missing in these policies are smart solutions to the agricultural challenges that drive food insecurity”.

Brazil, for example, became the most successful hunger-tackling country by investing in integrated, evidence-based solutions to optimise agricultural production and food distribution. Bitonde also noted that Ghana is the only African country that managed to meet the Millennium Development Goal 1 and halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Brazil’s achievement is attributed to a combination of strong social protection programmes, such as a conditional cash transfers and free school meals, as well as smart agricultural policies which have strengthened smallholder farming. Bitonde also pointed out that Brazil had focussed on empowering women, mobilising civil society, and investing in science and technology. Through Brazil’s holistic, multi sectoral approach, which included private-public partnerships, the government managed to reach a large number of people with its interventions. The subsequent increase in peoples’ purchasing power ultimately had the greatest impact on improving access to food at the household level.

Bitonde, who is currently working with the Namibian government on strengthening the country’s food safety net programmes, stressed that although there is no silver bullet for tackling food insecurity, decision-makers should look very carefully at some of Brazil’s policies.  If Namibia is to tackle its food security crisis successfully, the government must choose and adapt some of these approaches so they can be effective in the context of Namibia.