Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Food for the rich

East Africa was hit by its worst drought in half a century last year, leaving millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia hungry and triggering an outpouring of emergency aid from the European Union and other major donors. Yet while relief workers fought to avert a drought-induced famine in Africa, packets of Kenyan green beans and avocados and buckets of decorative flowers from Ethiopia were available in European markets.

“It’s easier to know the demands of the market in Europe than we do in our own neighbourhood,”
said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who heads the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, known as the ACP, which works with the EU to coordinate trade and development assistance. “In a particular [African] region you can have an acute shortage of goods, whereas next door you can have a bumper crop,” Chambas said.

The south-north food flow has created willing foreign markets for African farmers, while home-grown goods aren’t getting to other Africans who are surviving on international relief aid flown in during food shortages.

The EU imports 40% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports – including nuts, fresh-cut flowers, tea, coffee, citrus fruits and vegetables

“It is difficult to imagine the sense in the system, because when we import, say, green beans from Kenya, we’re taking imbedded water from a drought-prone country, and then we’re putting into our supermarkets, into our fridges and then we’re throwing it way uneaten...But equally, when you talk to governments down there they say, ‘we need the money’. ”
Tim Benton, a University of Leeds professor of population ecology said.

With nearly half of the more than 800 million Sub-Saharan Africans living below the UN’s poverty line of less than $1.25 per day, farming is seen as a way to providing lucrative exports of food and biofuel crops.

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