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Food, Faith and El Nino

Participants at the consultation Food Faith and El Nino
 
As the El Nino weather pattern challenges southern Africa, what is the role of churches in helping people realize their right to food and livelihood?
PACSA Director, Mervyn Abrahams, joined twenty-five people from the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, local churches and faith-based organizations in Southern Africa who asked this question as they gathered in Johannesburg on 18 April for a consultation entitled “Food, faith and El Nino.”
 
The consultation was opened by Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, acting general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. He outlined the responsibility of churches and church-related organizations to respond swiftly and adequately in a well-coordinated manner to the unfolding crisis caused by the El Niño weather pattern. “We are contributing to climate change and the El Niño weather pattern is making matters worse. We can do much better in responding to this crisis: to accompany and to assist our communities in this critical period,” he said. “We need to be inspired by those who are responding, learn from each other and work together to help our communities tide over these critical times.”
 
During the consultation, participants deepened their understanding of El Niño implications for food security and exchanged ideas for responses from the faith community. Barbara Kalima-Phiri, senior regional advisor for Advocacy and Justice for Children (World Vision Southern Africa Region) elaborated on the current situation and the urgent measures needed. It is unacceptable that not all the countries in the region have acknowledged the crisis, she said.
Angeline Munzara, strategy group member of the Food for Life Campaign of the WCC-EAA and policy and advocacy director of Resilience and Livelihoods at World Vision International, agreed, saying: “The faith community is not only mandated to respond to the crisis, but we need to hold governments accountable, to take this situation seriously.”
 
Mervyn Abrahams, director of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA), a long-standing participating organization of the WCC-EAA, presented data and trends from PACSA’s “Food Price Barometer” project. This highlighted South Africa’s shocking income inequality and the implication for rising food prices. “We cannot submit to the tyranny of averages, where the small proportion of very high-income citizens in the country masks the real poverty and undernutrition that most in the country suffers from,” Mervyn reminded us. (The PACSA project was featured on Carte Blanche, an investigative journalism television programme. Watch the story here: http://carteblanche.dstv.com/player/1029084/.
 
The current 2015–16 El Niño weather phenomenon is notable in terms of its strength and also its negative impact on crop production, livestock and agricultural livelihoods worldwide. In southern Africa, an estimated 28 million people are food insecure, with Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe declaring national drought emergencies.
 
In South Africa, it is estimated that poorer households already spend 55-75% of their total income on food. Food prices are estimated to rise by 30% during this year. Across the region, agriculture is mostly rain-fed and the severe drought is putting pressure on producers and consumers alike. Governments are responding to the emergency without adequate policies enabling adaptation and mitigation.
 
(This article is re-printed courtesy of the WCC-EAA)
 
Mervyn Abrahams presenting the latest analysis from the PACSA Food Price Barometer Research copy