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Famine is manmade. So is resilience.

Originally posted on the InterAction blog, 10/14/11.

Drought is natural. Famine is manmade.

This is the resounding lesson of today’s crisis in the Horn of Africa, and one that the world must learn. The documentary ViewChange: Africa’s Last Famine by Oxfam America and Link TV’s brings that lesson home, exploring ways for poor people to increase their food security while educating viewers on why famine is caused by more than drought.

  • Fact: The world produces more than enough food to feed its population today.
  • Fact: If a family has a cushion, it is able to survive a drought without risk of starvation.
  • Fact: There are people who are too poor to afford that cushion.
  • Fact: Weather patterns have shifted from previous years, making it harder for a farmer to predict when the best time is to plant crops.
  • Fact: If a farmer can adapt what crops and livestock they raise, they are positioned much better for unpredictable weather.
  • Fact: There are people who don’t have access to the knowledge and training they would need to make these adaptations.

Oxfam created a program, the Rural Resilience Initiative, to address these situations. It’s a four-part system, giving people access to credit, insurance and savings mechanisms, which lead to an overall reduction in their risks.

One main focus of the documentary, which I found fascinating, was the way the Rural Resilience Initiative helps poor farmers access insurance for their crops in the event of a drought. They interviewed Medhin Reda, a single mother in Adi Ha, Ethiopia, about her farm, which does not have access to irrigation. She doesn’t make enough money to pay for the insurance premiums, so she and other farmers pay with work instead—they do projects around the community like planting trees in watershed areas. These projects benefit everybody and help the community adapt to the climate and environment. My favorite part about it is that the idea was suggested by the farmers themselves. In my 3 1/2 years working at InterAction, I’ve come to believe very strongly that the only way change is sustainable is by helping communities to help themselves.

Africa’s Last Famine is streaming online now (see below), but it premieres on Link TV tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, and will show again on Tuesday, Oct. 18 (full airing details available on Link TV).


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