April 21, 2015
The Conference on “Global Food Security and the United Nations" took place on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. The conference was part of Alcorn State University's partnership with the Humpty Dumpty Institute and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and gathered UN experts and diplomats and others to look at how global food security is addressed by nation states, UN agencies and the US Government. The conference was part of Alcorn State’s Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Morrill Act which established HBCU Land-Grant Universities in 1890 and was attended by approximately 65 students and faculty of Alcorn State University.
Ambassador Joseph Malok, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Sudan to the United Nations, spoke first on food security in his country. Since independence in 2011, South Sudan is nowhere close to being self-sufficient in food production. South Sudan is a very poor country with 51 per cent of its population living below the poverty line. Out of the population of 8.26 million about 4.7 million are potentially food insecure. This means that about 57 per cent, which is more than half, of the population of South Sudan is potentially food insecure and in addition about one to two million are likely to be severely food insecure. The Ambassador went on to outline several ways to address this imbalance. The first is agricultural policy. In Sub-Saharan Africa the agricultural sector on which the majority of people depend represents the most important source of wealth essential to economic growth and food security. The development of detailed agricultural policies is imperative to revitalize the agricultural sector for the achievement of food security. These policies include provision of improved technologies to farmers, farmer empowerment, provision of advice and dissemination of information to farmers on research based farming practices to increase yields for self-reliance in achieving food security. The Ambassador then went on to talk about how the implementation of these policies depends on adequate budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector. The near total dependence of South Sudan on foreign food imports suggests that local producers are not being supported well enough to increase production to meet the demand and that agricultural policies are not being translated into concrete activities to realize high production to improve food security. The government should be actively involved in programmes such as agricultural research for improved technologies to increase production, seed certification and distribution, provision of extension services, support to development of infrastructures and marketing system, and to provide subsidies for inputs and outputs. Improving food security overall in South Sudan was then addressed by Ambassador Malok. In improving food security the focus should be on the farmer. This is because farmers’ knowledge, inventiveness and experimentation have been traditionally undervalued. Policy makers and planners who assume they are knowledgeable often make do without farmers’ participation and the ensuing over-ambitious goals that are set are not realistic. Farmers may not have the formal agricultural knowledge to know what is possible but policy makers and planners usually do not know the local conditions in which the farmers operate either. Focusing on farmers and their needs in the way of agricultural development is an important step in improving food security. Through informal research and development activities farmers generate new knowledge and create new technologies. In conclusion, the Ambassador spoke on focusing first on building the capacity of farmers through training and provision of extension services, and improving roads and market infrastructures. This can be achieved through farmer research and farmer-led extension. The farmer is central in any venture to improve food security otherwise unrealistic goals will be set with South Sudan being unnecessarily exposed to decades of food insecurity.
Next, Shannon Howard, External Relations Officer at the World Food Program office in New York spoke on the work of WFP in responding to conflict situations around the world. Food aid is essential for social and humanitarian protection. To the extent possible, the provision of relief food aid is coordinated with te relief assistance provided by other humanitarian organizations and governments. In this way, WFP is well placed to play a major role in the continuum from emergency relief to development. WFP gives priority to supporting disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation and post-disaster rehabilitation activities as part of development programs. Emergency assistance is used to the extent possible to serve both relief and development purposes. Targeted interventions are needed to help to improve the lives of the poorest people - people who, either permanently or during crisis periods, are unable to produce enough food or do not have the resources to otherwise obtain the food that they and their households require for active lives. In this way, WFP uses food aid to support economic and social development; meet refugee and other emergency food needs, and the associated logistics support; and promote world food security in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations. Ms. Howard went on to state that WFP ensures that its assistance programs are designed and implemented on the basis of broad-based participation. Women in particular are key to change; providing food to women puts it in the hands of those who use it for the benefit of the entire household, especially children. This also strengthens families coping ability and resilience. To be truly effective, food security programs should be fully integrated into the development plans and priorities of recipient countries and coordinated with other forms of assistance. WFP's starting point is the national policies, plans and programs of developing countries, including their food security plans. WFP pulls its activities together in an integrated way at the country level so that it can respond to urgent needs as they occur while retaining core development objectives. Ms. Howard then went on to speak of the immense fundraising challenges of the World Food Programme. In 2015 on average, WFP has had to raise some $25 million a week to meet demand. Some $7 to $10 million of this has been for Syria alone. Current emergencies there and in Iraq, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan make up most of the other emergency programs currently being addressed by WFP making this year’s budget ask approximately $7 billion. The United States is the major donor, providing almost a quarter of that amount.
Nicola Sakhleh, Branch Chief of the Food for Development Branch in the Office of Capacity Building and Development, of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture, then spoke about programs to alleviate food security within USDA. The first, the McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program helps support education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries around the world. It uses the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities, as well as financial and technical assistance, to support school feeding and maternal and child nutrition projects. The key objective of the McGovern-Dole Program is to reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls. By providing school meals, teacher training and related support, McGovern-Dole projects help boost school enrollment and academic performance. At the same time, the program also focuses on improving children’s health and learning capacity before they enter school by offering nutrition programs for pregnant and nursing women, infants and pre-schoolers. McGovern-Dole projects are implemented by non-profit charitable organizations, cooperatives, the United Nations World Food Program and other international organizations. Mr. Sakhleh then went on to talk about the other major food security program with USDA which is called Food for Progress. The Food for Progress Program helps developing countries and emerging democracies modernize and strengthen their agricultural sectors. U.S. agricultural commodities donated to recipient countries are sold on the local market and the proceeds are used to support agricultural, economic or infrastructure development programs. Food for Progress has two principal objectives: to improve agricultural productivity to alleviate food insecurity, and to expand trade of agricultural products. Past Food for Progress projects have trained farmers in animal and plant health, improved farming methods, developed road and utility systems, established producer cooperatives, provided microcredit, and developed agricultural value chains. Program participants have included private voluntary organizations, foreign governments, universities, and intergovernmental organizations. Mr. Sakhleh mentioned that the Humpty Dumpty Institute was one of these organizations, having completed both McGovern Dole and Food for Progress projects in Angola, Sri Lanka, and Laos.
Several exciting opportunities came about as a result of the conference, including the possibility of undergraduate and graduate scholarships in agriculture for South Sudanese students to attend Alcorn State, as well as a possible visit by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry to the Alcorn State campus to pursue further avenues of technical cooperation. The conference also opened new routes of communication between USDA and WFP, and USDA and the Republic of South Sudan with the possibility of South Sudan being included in the list of priority countries for both McGovern-Dole and Food for Progress programs.
Ambassador Joseph Malok is currently a Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Sudan Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN); he joined the Ministry of Regional Cooperation early in 2008 during the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). He was appointed as Head of the Government of Southern Sudan Mission to Canada in April 2008. After the Independence of South Sudan in 9 July 2011 Mr. Malok was confirmed as Charge’ d’ Affairs of the Embassy of the Republic of South Sudan in Ottawa, Canada. In March 7, 2012 he was appointed Ambassador and redeployed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation South Sudan, Juba as Director for African Union and Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Department. Also he has worked for several NGOs such as Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA) USA, in Khartoum, Sudan as field coordinator from and Kuei Operational Development & Relief Agency (KODRA) Foundation, a National NGO to help internal displace people from Southern Sudan around Khartoum, Sudan as logistics coordinator from. Ambassador Malok Hold a first Degree in Business Administration, Faculty of Economic & Administrative Science, Omdurman Ahlia University, Khartoum, Sudan, Diploma in hotel keeping management from International Institute, Omdurman, Sudan in, Diploma in Hospitality Management from SAIT Polytechnic, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a Bachelor Degree of Science in Business Management (BSB) from University of Phoenix and a Masters Degree in Energy Management from University of Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Shannon Howard, External Relations Officer at the World Food Programme office in New York, represents the World Food Programme on issues related to its activities in West, East and Southern Africa at the UN Headquarters in New York. Shannon has been working on Food Security and Nutrition issues for more than 10 years. Having served in Senegal, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Italy, her work has included policy development, operation implementation, and emergency response support. A Canadian national, Shannon studied at McGill University and worked on development projects in Malawi and at the Canadian International Development Agency prior to joining WFP.
Nicola Sakhleh is currently the Chief of the Food for Development Branch at the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) of USDA. The Food for Development Branch has responsibility in programming the Food for Progress Program. The Food for Progress program helps developing countries and emerging democracies modernize and strengthen their agricultural sectors. Mr. Sakhleh holds two bachelor’s degrees: One in International Studies and one in Anthropology (Social/Cultural); a minor in Global Systems; and a graduate degree in Public Policy in International Commerce and Trade.