Dr. Bernadette Lahai is a Sierra Leonean politician and the current Minority Leader of Parliament. She is the leader of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party in the House of Parliament. She is also the Vice President of the Pan African Parliament.
– IPS: In what ways has the Pan African Parliament (PAP) ensured that partners are upholding their commitments following the Parliamentary meeting held during the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) organized by FAO and the World Health Organization?
Dr.Lahai: PAP, as an advisory body, and their members on both national and regional levels, have continuously called for the attention of governments, international agencies, NGOs as well as individuals to fulfil their various obligations that adhere to international commitments and declarations. In order to communicate these responsibilities, expert hearings, workshops, media outreach and advocacies, lobbying and experiential exchange have been implemented. There has also been a push for the ratification of treaties and protocols which hinder development. Lacking adequate power to slam sanctions on defaulters, PAP can only advocate and lobby for adherence to these commitments. As a result of the granting of legislative and oversight powers over the African Union, it is hoped that PAP will be calling for more accountability and transparency, with the possibility of sanctioning non-compliant governments and institutions.
IPS: In light of the multiple challenges facing the African continent, in your view, how has the PAP fared in consolidating partnerships to impact policy-makers to consider food security and malnutrition when they design and formulate policies?
Dr.Lahai: The PAP Committee on agriculture, rural economy, environment and climate change have and continue to collaborate with their counterparts in the African Union Committee, the New Partnership for African Development’s “The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme”, national and international agricultural organizations and research institutes. NGOs are also working on food security and nutrition-related matters to exchange information on the subject, undertake joint activities and review data on progress. They also plan to make joint resolutions, declarations, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reminding governments and international organizations of their commitments, especially related to laws and policies to address nutritional and food security challenges. Fully aware of the fact that food security and nutrition issues are cross-cutting, PAP has also called for joint collaboration of committees and sectors whose work compliments food security and nutrition. Such sectoral coordination will help in addressing food security and nutrition in a holistic manner, which in turn, will help maximize limited resources and gains. Partnership with other institutions has also helped PAP access data, which is critical for inform decision-making, debate, advocacy, and lobbying.
IPS: Did the outcomes of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) influence the Pan African Parliament’s advancement of the food and security agenda?
Dr.Lahai: Most definitely. During the ICN2, parliamentarians identified an urgent need to advocate for more effective responses to address malnutrition, while ensuring that public policies are safeguarded from real or perceived conflicts of interest. I believe the proposed workshop is exactly what they would deem an “effective response” and “proactive measure” in the strive for a food-secure world.
The parliamentarians also underscored the importance of parliamentary dialogue in countries, regions and globally, in order to share good practice and experiences in ensuring food security and adequate nutrition. Emphasis is placed on the strengthening of parliamentary institutions through proactive measures to endow the parliament with greater accountability and oversight powers. The Parliaments upcoming workshop will communicate and recognize the importance of the parliamentarians observations and conclusions on the future of food.
The workshop will also study the draft MOU to be signed between PAP and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to ensure that the areas of collaboration are agreed upon and are within the legal responsibilities of the two parties. Initial thoughts on the structure of the alliance and the communication strategies to be adopted will also be discussed and agreed on during the workshop.
IPS:In your view, how important are initiatives such as training and workshops focused on the Food Security Agenda for Africa to meet the SDG target of zero hunger by 2030?
Dr.Lahai: First of all, food insecurity and malnutrition is not only an ongoing African problem, it is a global issue that needs to be dealt with in an efficient, proactive manner. In fact, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, 793 million people suffer from hunger and high levels of malnutrition persist. In Africa, specifically, in spite of significant developments achieved in recent years, approximately 217 million people are undernourished as the continent struggles to cope with the ongoing challenges related to malnutrition.
However, through the support of committed African leaders to positively change the food situation as stated in the Malabo Declaration and the African Regional Nutrition Strategy 2015-2025, the advancement of finding solutions to food and nutrition issues is being encouraged and supported on a national level. Governmental bodies have now recognised the fundamental importance of adopting strategies and innovative measures in the bid to eradicate malnutrition. In my opinion, with the implementation of more workshops and training to effectively communicate and propose solutions to the challenges of food insecurity, Africa could meet the SDG target of “zero hunger” by 2030.
The upcoming workshop will provide an avenue to learn, exchange experiences, and success stories while at the same time consider the challenges presented within the Latin America/Caribbean Parliamentary Alliance( PFH-LAC). This will greatly inform the roadmap for the Pan African Parliament Alliance (PAPA-FNS) / FAO collaboration. The focus will also centre on avoiding pitfalls experienced by the PFH-LAC in its establishment, in addition to replicating rewarding and fruitful strategies and approaches within the cultural and social sensitivities of the continent.
IPS: Why are partnerships with organizations vital to tackle food and nutrition issues in the African continent?
Dr.Lahai: Partners come with difference skills, expertise, strengths, institutional, human and financial capacities and capabilities and when put together, can produce a quick and long term impact.
In light of the gravity and persistence of malnutrition in Africa, partnerships with various stakeholders must be fostered in order to eradicate poverty and combat food security challenges. The FAO is, therefore, developing partnerships and alliances with Parliamentarians to cooperate in areas of mutual interest.
The FAO have been actively pursuing the establishment of PAPA-FNS. As a follow-up to various bilateral meetings held with a wide cross section of African Parliamentarians, a presentation presented to the PAP, and the launching of the Alliance in October 2016,the FAO are organizing a one-day workshop next month that will be essential for the exchange of ideas and solutions to pressing food and nutrition issues.
IPS: What do you expect from the planned workshop in August for the Pan African Parliament and where will you go from there?
Dr.Lahai: The workshop will be part of a series of engagements at various levels with African parliamentarians and is aimed at increasing awareness and knowledge about the role of parliamentarian alliances for food and nutrition security issues in addition to identifying possible areas for FAO’s support. At the end of the workshop, we hope that the participants will have gained a deeper understanding of the role of such alliances as they seek to place food sovereignty and food and nutrition security issues at the top of the regional, sub-regional and national political agendas.
The workshop centred on the advancement of the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda is being supported and coordinated by organizations such as FAO and PAP due to the fundamental importance of food security in the future of African development. The workshop is also critical at this juncture in furthering the advancement of the PAPA-FNS to place food and nutrition security issues at the top of the political and legislative agenda.
The outcomes of the workshop will be to help strengthen, improve and properly align the objectives of the Alliance with that of the Technical Cooperation Project document, which will be the guiding tool for the implementation.
IPS: Finally, what are the key institutional and governance challenges for comprehensive policies that protect and promote nutrition for the most vulnerable and contribute to sustainable and resistant food systems?
Dr.Lahai: The cross-cutting nature of food security and nutrition would call for an effective sectoral collaboration and engagement. As of yet, the collaboration remains sporadic and haphazard. There is a need for high-level inter-ministerial coordination to continuously keep the issue on the front burner. Most countries fail to implement progressive food security policies and rights to food laws. Climate change, which is also affecting food security and nutrition, is in need of stronger legal provisions. Uncoordinated national policies, fluctuation in food prices and production, political unrest, poverty, and a lack of clear national and global leadership are some of the main key institutional and governance challenges hindering the implementation of comprehensive, food-secure policies.
Rose Delaney, IPS Rome, interviewed Dr.Lahai