Central African Republic: Major food crisis looms

| January 27, 2014

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Aid agencies are warning of a looming food crisis in the Central African Republic, or CAR, if farmers do not receive more seeds and tools.

A violent coup by Seleka rebels overthrew the government in March, 2013. Since then, rebels have burned small-scale farmers’ crops to the ground and stolen their tools and livestock. This has had a serious impact on food security in the country.

Dominique Burgeon is the Emergencies Director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. He says, “A high proportion of farmers were unable to sow their fields for the last season or sowed only a reduced area, so this year, food stocks will run out low sooner [than usual].”

CAR has a Christian majority and a minority Muslim population. Violence between the mainly Muslim rebels and Christian anti-balaka groups killed 1,000 people in December.

Aid groups say considerable amounts of food aid are urgently needed to avert a crisis and restart agricultural production. Amidst the violence, Catherine Samba-Panza, the Christian former mayor of the capital city, Bangui, was elected the country’s interim President. She is the first woman President of the CAR.

Ms. Samba-Panza, 59, is seen as politically neutral. She replaces Michael Djotodia, the country’s first Muslim president, who resigned on January 10 following pressure from regional leaders and the country’s former colonial ruler, France.

Mr. Burgeon says: “We estimate that currently 1.2 million people in the country are food insecure and 40 percent of those are severely food insecure. Normally in this country the hunger gap starts in July, but this year we expect it to start in February.”

In Ms. Samba-Panza’s victory speech, she urged the warring factions to end the bloodshed. She said: “I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the [Muslim groups] − they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.”

In November of last year, aid agencies and the UN warned that the fighting risked spiralling into genocide. Four thousand African Union peacekeeping troops and 1,600 French troops are currently in the country to help end the violence.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, estimates there are almost 900,000 displaced people in the country, including half a million in Bangui alone. OCHA is urging people to return home and start farming.

The disruption and displacement of farmers, along with the destruction and pillaging of farms, has caused widespread food insecurity. A rapid assessment carried out by aid agencies reports: “… 78 per cent of respondents state that farmers will be cultivating in upcoming weeks … according to direct observation, even displaced farmers will have easier access to land and more time to open fields than last year.”

The statement continues, “Provision of agricultural inputs and support, such as seeds, is crucial to restore their productive capacities.”