Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Hunger?

With one billion people going to bed hungry every day and about the same number obese the geography of hunger presents inherent contradictions. Pictures and videos roll out rapidly from drought-stricken Horn of Africa, breaking our hearts as we see children so malnourished and clinging to helpless mothers. The pictures of dead cattle complete the scenes that scream nothing but hopelessness. At the other end of the spectrum we see obese folks in rich nations struggling to hook on their double belts around their bulges.

Why are we so hungry? Why is it that unless the photos of the dead and the dying appear in the media, some African governments keep mute and do nothing about these tragedies? How come that when they do anything at all it is often just begging for aid? But the hunger in the Horn of Africa did not just happen. Reports say that there has been rain failure over the past three years and the people in those areas have been gradually reduced to a state of helplessness while no one paid attention. Some are said to have been displaced from rich ancestral lands and were forced to live in parched lands where they had no coping mechanisms and support.

Is it beyond government and institutions in the drought-stricken areas to find better ways of water management, including rain harvesting and irrigation, that would help the affected people cope and flourish? How about tested agro-ecological cultivation methods that small-scale farmers have used to great impact in parched parts of Africa, including the Tigray region of Ethiopia? Is it impossible for governments to provide basic infrastructure that would help move food from areas with good rainfall to areas that are deprived? An example is what we hear is the situation in Uganda. The north eastern part of the country is currently faced with drought and crop failures while the western part is lush, green and with bountiful harvests. The situation was the same in Zambia in 2004 when one region had food shortages while things were normal in other areas.

The food business seeks to pile up profits and not to eliminate hunger. In fact the more hungry we are, the more profit they make. It can thus be suggested that food merchants are glad to entrench hunger and keep populations dependent on their products. For many years this has been seen as the principal objective of food aid. For example, donors who insist on in-kind aid see food aid as a way to dump their surplus production on needy countries, by extension expanding the market for those products. Food aid is not free food. Apart from emergency food aid that is largely free, others like programme aid and project aid (including things like school feeding projects) are paid for by the recipient nations. It is interesting to note that as a rule 75 percent of food aid from the US must be bought, processed, transported and distributed by US companies. It is also interesting to note that only four companies control over 80 percent of the transport and delivery of food aid in the world. The transaction costs, including the costly transportation, take over 60 percent of emergency food aid costs. Food aid was a principal foreign policy tool. Till date it remains conditional and is often tied with demands for prescribed economic reforms. Hunger is a great tool for the subjugation of peoples, distortion of local food production and the building of dependency. It is a shame that African governments keep extending the beggar’s bowl rather than taking steps to fight the scourge.

Adapted from here

Africa can feed not just itself but the world. This is the claim made by Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), a specialised agency of the UN. Nwanze argues that Africa is facing the fallout of decades of neglecting agriculture, a fault that lies with African governments and aid donors. Nwanze drew a sharp contrast between Gansu province, in northwest China, and parts of Africa that cannot feed itself. He said like many parts of the world, Gansu suffers from frequent drought, limited water for irrigation and severe soil erosion. Yet despite the weather and the harsh environment, the farmers in the Gansu programme area are feeding themselves.

"It has a very harsh environment, it has only 300 millimetres of rain annually, compared to parts of the Sahel which gets 400-600 millimetres, but the government has invested in roads and electricity. We found a community willing to transform their lives by harvesting rainwater, using biogas, terracing mountain slopes. There are crops for livestock, they are growing vegetables, wheat and maize, and generating income that allows them to build resilience." He explained. The Ifad president says Africa could easily increase the use of fertilisers without making a dent on the environment, because current usage is so low. And he cites the potential to increase irrigation – only about 7% of land in the whole of Africa is irrigated, compared with more than 30% of land in Asia – and the scope for farmers to use improved seed varieties that would dramatically boost productivity. "The potential is huge," said Nwanze. "With a little investment, Africa can feed itself and it has the potential to feed the world."

No comments: