Friday, May 10, 2013

Guinea-Bissau: Hunger projects stalled

food security guinea-bissau
Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN. Farmers in Bafata preparing the land to plant rice seedlings (file photo)

Source: IRIN

BISSAU/DAKAR, 9 May 2013 (IRIN) - The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill.

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.


Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.