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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why Arusha meeting on agriculture was important to Africa’s food security

12th October 2012
Famine in East Africa is a result of food insecurity (File photo)
Food security is paramount in the political and economic stability in East Africa. (File Photo)

It is challenging to think about a food secure future in East Africa because of the many challenges that come up. In this context, “what is most likely to happen” is often not the most helpful question, because the future changes so fast. A better guiding question might be “what if”?

What if decision-makers in East Africa achieve regional political and socio-economic integration? Conversely, what if the region falls apart? What are the consequences for food security for vulnerable communities? What about the environment?...

While the answers to these questions might be far from predicting outcomes in various situations, they however help to project, for example, socio-economic costs of climate change, the availability of food for all and the condition of livelihoods for various societies.

The answers help to build scenarios and visions from which strategic planning for actions can be taken so as to realize those visions.

Scenarios therefore provide an opportunity to policy and decision makers, academics, and farmers among others, to prepare themselves for conditions to come, by taking appropriate action. It is important to note here that besides building visions, these groups also have a chance to identify challenges and figure out measures for how to overcome the challenges.

Speaking at a workshop held recently in Arusha, Tanzania, Scenarios Officer for the CGIAR programme “Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security” from the University of Oxford, Dr Joost Vervoort, said that scenarios help key actors to rethink and reorganize current structures to create more robust policies and strategies to deal with future uncertainties.

“Scenarios are different “What if…” accounts for the future, told in words, numbers images, maps and interactive learning tools. Scenarios do not predict, but they help partners acknowledge future uncertainty and explore the dynamics of widely different but plausible future worlds,” he explains, adding that society lives at a time when changing conditions and risks associated with various drivers interact with rapid political, economic and social changes in the world’s vulnerable regions.

Scenarios guide the consideration of future uncertainties without getting lost in the multitude of possibilities and they present individual stories that bring together very different perspectives and types of information, bringing the future to life in the process.

“The Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security regional scenarios process plays a unique role in the context of food security, environment and livelihoods. It helps to articulate the challenges presented by climate change by introducing a complementary focus on socio-economic change and by adopting a regional rather than purely natural stance, the scenarios process links different scales and integrates the needs of a wide range of stakeholders, thereby identifying potential synergies and trade-offs,” Dr Vervoort explains.

The workshop, “East African Strategic Futures”, was attended by participants from the East Africa countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia most of whom were technical advisors to the East African Commission.

Participants helped change the scenarios at the workshop, while engaging in strategic planning for the future of food security, governance, environment and livelihoods under crucial socio-economic and climate change uncertainties.

The East African scenarios building process, led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), seeks to capture key uncertainties and challenges for regional food security, environment and livelihoods under conditions of global environmental and socio-economic change from various perspectives and to develop regional capacity for governance and decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

The scenarios have also been developed to in order to identify adaptation and mitigation technology, policy options and opportunities towards improved food security, governance, environmental management and livelihoods, particularly in areas of regional collaboration.

During the workshop, the participants, who represented various regional needs, agendas and aspirations, worked together to create a shared vision for the region’s future. They then mapped the actions needed to realize the visions starting from the time the vision is to be realized going backwards.

This process of planning from the desired future and going back to the present has the advantage that it takes strategic planners away from the conventional planning method which is often grounded in the past rather than looking at the future challenges and how to deal with them.

Participants used explanatory scenarios developed for East Africa from 2010 to 2030 to explore what strategies and investment options are needed to realize the vision in each of the alternative futures and identify the major obstacles and opportunities in each future world.

“Strategic visioning is participatory and goal-oriented and has a natural affinity with planning in private sector and civil society contexts. Strategic visioning exercises generate strategies that are robust under different plausible future scenarios,” says Arthur Muliro, (Society for International Development), the lead facilitator of the workshop.

Four CCAFS scenarios for food, security, environment and livelihoods have been developed for East Africa with the time horizon set at 2030, a year participants involved in the process felt would allow sufficient time for planning at the regional level and also for developing fairly detailed narratives.

The scenarios process seeks to explore key regional socio-economic uncertainties for food security, environment, governance, and livelihoods through integrated qualitative-quantitative scenarios describing futures up to 2030. The process also seeks to use these scenarios with regional, national and local actors for strategic planning to explore the feasibility of strategies, technologies and policies towards improved food security, environment, governance, and livelihoods under different socio-economic and governance conditions.

One scenario is the Industrious Ants. This scenario is characterized by the slow but strong economic and political development of East Africa and proactive government actions to improve regional food security. However there are costly battles with corruption and security is fragile as the region has to deal with new international tensions resulting from its assertion in the global in the political economy arena.

The region’s focus away from export-only commercial crops causes some challenges to compete in the global market, and the region’s dedication on regional self reliance proves to be challenging when the great drought hits in the early 2020s. By that time however, many state and non-state actors support structures are in place to help mitigate the worst impacts. Government and non-state actors struggle to mitigate the environmental impacts of growing food and energy production.

In the Herd of Zebra scenario, governments and non-state actors are dedicated to push for development- but mainly through industry, services, tourism and agriculture for export. In terms of food security, environment and livelihoods there is limited action. Natural lands decline.

East African economies are booming but the region suffers the consequences of double vulnerability- to global markets and environmental change. Only when food insecurity becomes extreme after food import prices skyrocket at the time of the great drought in the early 2020s are actions taken to govern water resources invest in climate-smart food production for regional consumption.

The Lone Leopards Scenario indicates that regional integration exists only on paper. In reality, governments and non-state actors are securing their own interests. In terms of food security, environment and livelihoods, the region initially seems to be heading to a catastrophe.

However, after some years, many regional state and non-state partnerships become very pro-active and unburdened by tight regional regulations and, supported by international relations, are able to achieve some great successes. Unfortunately this is a hit-and –miss world because of the lack of coordinated efforts, and key problems are ignored.

Governments’ inability to overcome regional disputes and collaborate becomes untenable when a major drought hits in 2020. This phenomenon pushes civil society, bolstered by international support, to demand radical change in governments. The change sticks in many cases, and for the better.

The Sleeping Lions scenario is all about wasted potential and win-lose games. Governments are reactive and self-interested, allowing foreign interests free reign in the region.

This has devastating consequences for food security, environment and livelihoods in the region. Conflicts, protests and uprisings are common and every time there is the promise of reform, it rarely materializes into any real change. Only at the very end of the period do the first signs of better governance emerge, but the future is still very uncertain.

With no coordinated efforts to deal with climate impacts, the great drought of the early 2020s causes massive losses among the region’s poor, and only communities’ adaptive capacity and resilience, born out of decades of forced self-reliance, informal economies and the ability to share key knowledge can help mitigate some of the worst effects of this disaster.

Based on these scenarios, participants came up with common visions in each specific area.

On food security, they had a vision of regional food self-sufficiency with food production satisfying needs and agriculture being conducted in a sustainable manner.

Food sufficiency was envisioned in terms of abundant supply of nutritious food, and while such supply was to be stable for a long time, the vision was that of enough food for export in order to raise the economies of farmers in the region.

Participants also had a vision of households having sufficient means to produce food and where necessary buy some to meet their needs. On the other hand, the vision was to see adequate and efficient food storage systems so as to reduce wastage.

With these elements of vision, participants also identified challenges which included poor technological development, lack of agricultural diversification and dependence on rain-fed agriculture as well as poor storage facilities and technology. Other challenges were lack of funding and facilities to support food security strategies, poor transport infrastructure resulting in high transaction costs and population increase leading to greater food requirements.

Regarding the environment, participants had a vision of a green environment that promotes socio-economic development, reduces poverty and guarantees the safety of people.

The ideal environment should enhance sustainable development. Challenges related to this vision include bad governance and policies leading to failure to enforce existing laws and regulations relating to environmental management; failure to put in place strategies which would translate natural resources into wealth that would provide quality social services; and low awareness among communities on the impact of environmental degradation.

On livelihoods, participants had a vision of a shift from subsistence farming to market-oriented agricultural production with the application of sustainable agricultural practices that help farmers to adapt to climate change.

Using the back-casting method, where the future is brought to the present through backward planning, participants developed strategic action plans that would enable them to overcome the challenges and realize their visions. Participants also set goals for their vision and identified challenges that would be met in reaching the goals and finally they formulated actions that they would take in order to attain the goals in the face of anticipated challenges, starting from 2029 going back to 2012.

“The advantage of back-casting is that it takes strategic planners away from planning forward to the future, an approach that often leads to plans that build on and plan for the past, rather than for the future. Back-casting involves mapping what actions are needed to work backwards from the desired future to the present,” says Dr Joost Vervoot, Scenarios Officer at the University of Oxford.

On her part, Dr Moushumi Chaudhury, Science Officer at the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change , Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) says, “Many describe the back-casting learning process as “challenging” and a “brain teaser” since it is not common to work backwards as planning for the future intuitively suggests working forward.” Dr Chaudhury was one of the facilitators at the Arusha workshop.

“This exercise has been very interesting and it will bring drastic change in the way we set our goals and plan how to attain these goals. It makes planning very realistic and easy to implement,” comments Eng. Rajabu Mtunze from Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, who participated in the Arusha workshop.

However he hastens to say that there could be a problem in adopting it in some government departments as officers are conservative and do not easily accept change. “But I will sell this idea to my superiors and convince them to introduce this new planning technique. It will bring significant change in our operations,” he adds.

Dr Vervoort says he thinks the process went well and he hopes that both state and non-state actors will make use of what they have learnt in the future. “The whole scenario process has been successful.

After this workshop, it is up to participants to influence decision-making and it is up to policy makers to implement the back-casting process in order to meet the challenges and realize the vision of the future. CCAFS will play a facilitating role in turning these ideas into action.” he says.

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