WFD: Let Africans Feed themselves

Published on 11th October 2005

Should Africa mark the World Food Day (WFD)? Africa has become synonymous with famine, if it is not Niger, it will be Mali, Eastern Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the list goes. The theme for 2005 is ‘Agriculture and intercultural dialogue.’ Take Eastern Kenya as an example, the chronology of famines in recorded history date back from 1840 to the present, and the area is hit at an average interval of 3 years. The recent media reports that 1.2 million Kenyans are facing starvation exposes the dishonesty of the government and international agencies that seem keen to use the plight of the poor for their own strategic reasons. 

Famine is not unique to Kenya and Africa. Ancient Egypt hired the services of Joseph on famine relief measures, in the eleventh and twelfth century England recorded famine after every fourteen years. France, India, China, and Russia, have had their own share of famines. Why should Kenyans be treated to famine relief announcements on an annual basis when some regions are groaning with extra rain and food? Close to 75% of the Kenyan population engage in agricultural activities. Despite this huge number, Kenya remains underfed and with the majority of the population malnourished.  

Low resource farmers ought to be integrated into the larger national and international market system. Kenyans and international agencies must stop viewing populations in the drier areas as a burden and consider working with them as potential producers and consumers. By simply changing the mindset from viewing poor people as helpless to people with a struggling spirit to fit in the competitive world, food productivity will increase. For instance, one of the key reasons why peasant farmers cannot increase their yields is due to high cost of inputs. If businesses were given incentives to venture into trouble areas with repackaged products that can fit the peasants daily budget chances are high that they will be propelled to the next level of productivity.

In Africa, famine occurs at least once every four years and since the mid 1970, Ethiopia and Sudan have been labeled “the lands of famine”. Russia, China, India and Bangladesh have rid themselves of famine over the years. In Africa it is difficult to trace famines in terms of records but triggering causes have mostly been natural disasters such as drought, locusts, and livestock diseases. In some countries, famine has been exacerbated by rains, conflict and war. The worst food crisis in Africa’s history was the great famine of 1988 -1992 which killed one third of Ethiopia’s population and also inflicted suffering in Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania.

No famine can be attributed solely to a single factor such as drought. Other underlying variables such as political, demographic and socio-economic processes make people vulnerable to famine. Most African famines were triggered by drought. On the contrary, over one thousand famines; however, that were experienced in Asia in one thousand years were mainly caused by extreme cold.  

African governments have been resorting to food imports and seeking food aid. Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) is now the second most important world destination of food aid after Asia. In 1970, this region received three quarters of a million tonnes of cereals as food aid. By 1998 this had increased to 2.2 million tonnes (an annual average rate of increase of 3.8 %), representing about one-seventh of the regions total cereal imports.  

Since we know the causes of famine with a great degree of precision, dependence on food aid is a source of danger. Much of the solution to poor nutrition lies with the expanding production in Africa itself. Food self-sufficiency in Africa is not only desirable but also be attainable. Commercial farming approach particularly among the low resource farmers will become even more important in ensuring food security in Africa. At IREN we have launched a ‘Blue Print to Commercial Farming among Low Resource Farmers’ as the first step towards fighting famine.

Improving agricultural performance is at the core of improved economic development and growth. Its role in poverty alleviation and re-establishment of human dignity cannot be overlooked. Employing a commercial model, where low resource farmers operate using business strategies will lead to productivity. What the Kenyan and by extension African leadership ought to do is to get the business infrastructure in Africa up and running. Incite Africans to go for profits. Africa ought to mark the World Food Day with a new theme: let business fight poverty! To export the African problem to the International Agencies will perpetuate the predicament that Africa faces at the moment, lack of good managers! 

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