Monday, March 17, 2014

Capitalism is the silent crisis

Tegegnework Gettu, director of the United Nations Development  Programme’s Africa bureau, writes in the preface of the Human Development Report. “Africa is not fated to starve. That is an affront to both its dignity and its potential… Africa must stop begging for food… Had the African governments over the last 30 years met their people’s aspirations, the report would not be necessary. One quarter of the people in sub-Saharan Africa would not be undernourished, and one third of African children would not be stunted.” He went on to say “Hunger and malnutrition remain pervasive on a continent with ample agricultural endowments. Africa has the knowledge, the technology, and the means to end hunger and insecurity.”

Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo echoed Mr Gettu’s words, saying that African leadership should be indicted in the area of food production. “It tells us what we know: that the poverty of Africa is the making of African leaders over the years.”

During Asia’s green revolution, for example, many Asian countries spent up to 20% of their budgets on agriculture, while African countries currently spend between 5 to 10% on the sector. This is despite African leaders’ commitment in 2003 to allocate at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture. At the moment, Africa spends more on the military than on agriculture.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most food-insecure region and where poverty is particularly alarming, according to UNDP. Up to 25% of sub-Saharan Africa’s 856 million people are undernourished, with 15 million people facing serious risks in the Sahel and an equal number in the Horn of Africa. The worsening food situation dampens glowing reports on Africa’s fast-growing economies, which have expanded by an annual average of 5% to 6% during the past decade.

However, notes  Helen Clark, UNDP administrator “Impressive GDP growth rates in Africa have not translated into the elimination of hunger and malnutrition.”

In addition to the impact of drought on food security, famines often also get the headlines, even though uneven access to food due to low incomes is as much a problem. “The silent crises of chronic malnourishment and seasonal hunger do not receive nearly enough attention,” notes the report. Increased agricultural production does not necessarily guarantee food security.

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