Importance of Food Security The World Food Summit for Co-ops in Africa (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.105-107)

Importance of Food Security
The World Food Summit for Co-ops in Africa
Ousseynou Dieng*

To be free from hunger is not and cannot be a sufficient condition to
bring about food security.

More than 800 million people live in a situation of food shortage in
the developing countries, and in particular in the African countries south
of Sahel.

More than the majority of African co-operatives are agricultural, just
as the motor for the development of Africa still depends on its agriculture.

This is why African co-operatives, which constitute the foyers where
one finds the majority of the continent's productive force, are keenly
interested in the question of food security, as their members are subjected
in their daily lives to food insecurity in its many forms.

African agriculture does not provide sufficient income for its workers. 
Since the introduction of structural adjustment policies and liberalisation,
African agricultural producers have had great difficulty in carrying out the
essential agricultural and rural services which are being abandoned by their

In the absence of States, it is the co-operatives and similar organisations
which take over the task of providing these services, within their limited
means.  These services include basically supply, production, financing,
and marketing. 

A certain number of obstacles limits their efforts and keeps them in a
situation of poverty and dependence.  These obstacles are: lack of control
over productive resources (land, water, fertilisers), rapid population
growth, natural or human-made catastrophies such as drought, ethnic
combats, or civil wars; but also the political, economic or financial policies
implemented or imposed by different States (dictatorships, monetary
devaluation, privatisation, etc.)

The World Food Summit led the international community to undertake
a Special Programme for Food Security, based on different kinds of
activities than in the past, better coordination of strategies, and especially
more participation of the people concerned.  This is where one can find
the hope and expectations of Africa's co-operatives.  

What are the requirements, and what are the actions that should be
undertaken with African co-operatives, in order to bring about indigenous
programmes of development based on sustainable, decentralised,
alternative, and participative systems?

Co-operatives participate and can act in the identification of constraints,
the quantification of needs, planning, and implementation.  For example,
the management of land with the concern of avoiding over-exploitation or
massive deforestation; conservation and the use and management of water
in irrigation as well as in rain-fed agriculture.  Co-operatives and their
members can also participate more in all those activities which lead
directly or indirectly to an increase in their revenue: increasing the return
and quality of production, quantities produced, diversification of
production, intensification of production of local cereals, prevention
of after-harvest losses, organisation and financing of marketing,
sub-regional exchange programmes, increasing and improving fodder
through programmes of harvesting and conservation of natural pastures
often destroyed by intentional brush fires.

Fishing co-operatives can also participate in the development and
execution of programmes for the conservation and management of
the natural resource upon which they depend.

African co-operatives can contribute to producers' participation by
taking their views into consideration and by providing advice and guidance.

Development is not only synonymous with technical progress, but
epecially with social progress, redistribution of property and rights,
changes in mentality and behaviour of people and governments,
preferably all together.  For this to happen, attention must be given
to training of the available human resources and the use of their capacity,
especially in the case of women who provide more than 60 percent of
the productive force and contribute more than 50 percent of Africa's food
production.  They cannot be ignored or marginalised any longer.
Co-operatives can contribute more to the changing of mentalities and
behaviour regarding a better redistribution of property and rights, taking
into consideration the economic, social, and demographic weight, and the
basic intrinsic value, of the African woman as a person.

By their multidimensional role and the principles which guide them, as
well as their capacity as businesses to create employment and increase
income, co-operatives can contribute at local as well as national levels
to the prevention of a certain number of ethnic conflicts, civil wars, etc. 
The creation of employment and revenue also contributes to social equity,
the preservation of natural resources, sustainable development, and a
climate of security.

African co-operatives can play an important, high-level role in the
definition, initiation, and implementation of sustainable agricultural
development policies.  

At the same time, they need to be recognised and respected in the same
way as certain NGOs, and to have support in accessing bilateral
programmes and in benefiting from South/South and North/South
development programmes.

* Mr. Dieng is Chairman of the ICA Regional Council for West
   Africa and Director of the National Union of Agricultural
   Co-operatives in Senegal.