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Graça Machel

Graça Machel shares her thoughts on the impact of conflict and HIV/AIDS on food security in Africa
Graça Machel shares her thoughts on the impact of conflict and HIV/AIDS on food security in Africa

Conflict, HIV/AIDS and food security in Africa

Graça Machel is President of the Foundation of Community Development in Mozambique.

Look at a map of Africa and you will realise that at least a third of African countries have experienced conflict at some time during the last three decades. Add to this number those neighbouring states indirectly affected, by refugees for example, and you will see that almost two-thirds of the continent has been diverting its financial and human resources into coping with conflict rather than putting its efforts into development. Given this situation, what hope is there for food and nutrition security in Africa by 2020?

There are signs, in some regions at least, that conflicts are abating. But the impact of war is so deep and so long lasting that it is difficult for countries to rebuild and turn their attention to food production. Huge numbers of people will have been violently uprooted and displaced, either internally or to neighbouring countries. If they are not where they belong, they cannot farm. Psychologically harmed, they also lack the will. Their presence often disrupts the local populations and of course places a huge burden on host governments. During the time of conflict in Mozambique, for example, Malawi hosted almost three million refugees. It takes a long time to resettle returning refugees. Infrastructure - roads, dams, bridges, railways - needs rebuilding. It is no good thinking that, because the guns are silent, it is back to business as usual. It can take more than a decade to rebuild what has been destroyed in just a few years.

For any country coming out of conflict, a major challenge is how to prioritise. Reconstruction, education, health, and many other legitimate demands compete with the need to support the rural sector in general and food production in particular. And in the last two decades, HIV/AIDS has been cutting down the most productive sector of society - young people. For some countries, especially in southern Africa, you cannot plan food security for the next ten to twenty years without taking into account the impact of HIV/AIDS. It is a very, very serious situation. Those that fall sick will need treatment, an expense that drains resources from other sectors including agriculture. Those that are left - orphans and the elderly - are least able to carry the burden of increasing food production to ensure future food and nutrition security.

My greatest concern is for the young people who, because of HIV/AIDS, will not have a normal childhood and adolescence. They have to fend for themselves and many will also be responsible for the care of younger siblings. Their education is likely to have been disrupted as they stop their schooling to care for sick parents and take on the work that their parents would have done. Another challenge that has a direct effect upon food production, and therefore food security, is that agriculture is not a sector that is attractive to young people who believe there are greater opportunities elsewhere. We have to find a way to give them an education that also gives them the opportunity to learn skills that will help them to survive. And we have to make sure that agriculture appeals to them as a dignified way of making a living. This is a hugely challenging task but is there an alternative?

My own feeling is that the continent is in a process of change. I have hopes that NEPAD will provide a flexible and effective way of implementing development. I believe that the interaction between policy makers and people representing different interest groups will be greater in future and that this will bring benefits. But we should not forget that we are changing centuries of practices and results cannot be expected quickly. My hope is that we shall be able to look back in five years' time and see real progress.

Date published: May 2004


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