Millions Go Hungry as Obesity Rages

Published on 19th November 2010

The prevailing paradigm within which issues of food security are discussed in relation to Africa is alarmist and perpetuates myths that have so colonised our minds - that there isn’t enough food in Africa to feed Africa’s population; there is urgent need to increase food production in order to meet the needs of Africa’s population; and that because of population growth, Africa’s food-producing resources are stretched to the limit. Perpetuation of these myths diverts attention from the real problems associated with Africa’s food security such as: unequal access, food diversion, wasted consumption and ineffective management of Africa’s food resources. This status quo therefore renders leaders to propose inappropriate solutions whose implementation ends up facilitating the continuance of the problems.

If we argue that rapid population growth in itself a major factor in contributing to food insecurity, then nations with high population densities should be the ones that are food insecure. However, this is not necessarily the case.  The people of Germany with an estimated population density of 230 persons per square kilometre have a life expectancy at birth of 79 years, as compared to those of Uganda with a much lower population density (of an estimated 134 persons per square kilometre) and yet have a life expectancy at birth of only 53 years.  Comparatively, also, the people of China with a population density of 139 persons per square kilometre, closer to the population density of Uganda, have a much higher life expectancy at birth of 73 years.

If access to food plays a major role in determining longevity in terms of life expectancy, the question we need to ask is: What is Germany and China doing to ensure that their respective populations have adequate access to food?  The answer should be a major determinant of Africa’s policies for poverty reduction. I hypothesise that the answer to this question will reflect excellent post production food management by both Germany and China. The amount of food wasted in Africa in the process of transportation to markets, storage, preparation and consumption is huge. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted in both rich and poor countries.

I am convinced that there is currently enough food and food producing resource capacity in Africa to feed Africa’s current population. Otherwise, major conglomerates, such as Lonrho, would not be focusing on rebuilding their empires on the basis of African food exports, as it is reportedly the current trend. 

For many African countries, food exports dominate their foreign currency earnings.  For some African countries, such as Burundi and Malawi, over 80% of their exports come from food.  Ironically, these countries are also the major recipients of relief food aid. Food insecurity in Africa is as a result of both internal and external factors. Indeed, chronic wastage of good food, exorbitant food prices and food exports from the periphery to the core are the norm in Africa. How else can we explain the fact that millions go hungry in Africa while an epidemic of obesity rages in the world, including in parts of Africa, especially amongst the elite in urban centres?

By Norah Owaraga,
Sociologist and CEO, Executive Support Services

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