From dream to reality: hope in the Sahel
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Silva Soares, Horacio. 2001. From dream to reality: hope in the Sahel. Spore 96. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The World Food Summit held in Rome in November 1996 confirmed that access to food and the availability of food was still a major challenge. Soon, a little later than originally planned, the Summit s achievements will be reviewed, more than five...
The World Food Summit held in Rome in November 1996 confirmed that access to food and the availability of food was still a major challenge. Soon, a little later than originally planned, the Summit s achievements will be reviewed, more than five years after the event. Now, as in 1996, there are some hopeful trends against a background of massive challenges. The number of people in the world categorised as genuinely under-nourished has decreased from 920 million in the early 1970s to 840 million in the mid 1990s, but still one in five inhabitants in developing countries, many of whom are in ACP countries, are still in need. The nine Sahelian countries which comprise the Inter-State Permanent Committee for the Struggle against Drought in the Sahel (known as CILSS, formed from its French name Comité Permanent Inter-États pour la Lutte contre la Sécherèsse au Sahel) are a representative sample of this panorama. With a total surface of about five million km2, they have a total population of 54 million, with a growth rate approaching 2.8%. One-third of the population lives in urban areas. Almost three-quarters of the countries overall area has an annual rainfall below 300 mm, but it is home to 10% of the population, who live mainly as pastoralists. Many more people 80% in all have made their homes in areas where rainfall ranging between 300 mm and 1,200 mm makes dry-land agriculture possible. However, for almost three decades, the Sahel area has suffered from a prolonged drought with only intermittent relief. Sahelian countries are amongst the poorest in the world. The soils are generally shallow and poor in nutrients; the vegetation is a savannah of trees and shrubs, with annual grasses. Water resources are generally scarce, despite some permanent rivers that allow some irrigated crops. Some of these rivers also cross the territories of other countries in West Africa. Cattle breeding plays an important role in the economy in such countries as Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso, where it represents around 15 % of the Gross Domestic Product. Drought and desertification are the main obstacles to development with two black shadows always present, hunger and poverty. These countries recognised early on in their current drawn-out crisis that, because of their relative smallness, they had developed a common political will. That is reflected in the creation of the CILSS, which was set up in 1974. Since that time it has sought to establish common strategies and development policies. Tough policy measures Together, these global objectives form a mighty raft to carry many hopes, but it also carries many monumental preoccupations which, uncomfortable as they may be, need to be addressed. Let us examine some of them. First of all, it has to be said that the price policies for export trades, which are determined by the industrialised countries, are putting at risk commercial exchanges between the CILLS member states. Having no access to more developed technologies, they cannot reach the scales of productivity reached in industrialised countries or compete with their prices. How can they respond to such competition in the global marketplace? Surely, this requires protective mechanisms for local production which will draw out its full potential and stimulate regular growth in local and regional markets. Secondly, the effective decentralisation of power is indispensable for political stability. It allows decision-making by local communities, who must be empowered to strengthen themselves and to shape their destiny. In this, central bodies will have to play the role of planning agents, regulators and coordinators in the allocation of available resources. The consolidation of local production requires a fundamental and active integration into local productive and cultural structures and systems. Experience has shown that the imposition of external solutions is usually a path for disappointment, or even disaster. Central in this is the way in which external methods often have a negative impact on family structures, and on the all-important role of women. Not only are their functions in the production system put at risk, or even removed, but their marginalisation also threatens their irreplaceable task of transmitting cultural values to the next generation. Another essential factor is political stability between neighbour countries, and within them. The starting point must be respect of traditional structures, without imposition of Western models of democracy. Accordingly, traditional systems should be strengthened, to enable them to better evolve and adapt to new conditions. Finally, the haemorrhage of rural exodus has to be brought under control, on the basis of integrated development programmes, where education, training, health care and support to the social structures of local communities are common parts of a common strategy. The world has by now accumulated sufficient experience and wisdom, over so many years, to know that if these premises are not taken into consideration, then we shall all be spectators, or even players, in the collapse of hope and its replacement by a failure of unimaginable proportions. [caption to illustration] Horácio Silva Soares is an agronomist, who taught at the University of Lourenço Marques, nowadays known as the Eduardo Mondlane University, in Maputo, Mozambique. In his native Cape Verde, he was Director-General for Natural Resources, and founder president of the National Institute for Agricultural Research. He was also Director-General of the CILSS regional Centre AGRHYMET and Ambassador to Italy, Greece and Egypt. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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