It is not until events like the World Food Day (WFD) are marked (every 16th day of October) or food related bodies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) among others make appeals for food, that local and international attention is attracted. The most interesting thing however is the fact that we live with persistent hunger in a world of plenty. About two billion people worldwide suffer from hunger or micronutrient malnutrition. Africa is the worst hit by this painful phenomenon. Approximately 28% of Africa’s population remains chronically hungry.
In 2000 the continent received 2.8 million tons of food aid, which is over a quarter of the world total. But why should Africa, a continent full of resources and knowledgeable about hunger continue to painfully face starvation? Why should the continent continue to face direct economic cost of hunger of about 30 billion US Dollars and about 500 Billion to 1 Trillion per year in terms of lost productivity and incomes? Who are the culprits and what is the best way to go?
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the right of everyone “to standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family including food”. Many institutions recognize the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger but a significant population of people the world over, remains chained in hunger. Perhaps we are more of “loudmouths than doers”! We celebrate World Food Day when indeed the majority of people cry of hunger; we give billions of dollars worth of food aid to almost the same population instead of supporting them with long term strategies of securing food! We have failed not only to halve poverty as per our targets but also to quarter it.
Although some blame nature as the source of this crisis, hunger is a product of complex interrelated social ills. It is a disaster made by people and therefore requires people’s will and determination to eliminate. It is intricately linked to local and global economic, political and social power structures; modes of development and consumption; social biases based on race, ethnicity, gender, and age among others. War, for example, slows or stops food production and marketing. Countries such as Afganistan, Sudan, Mozambique, Somalia, Rwanda, and Srilanka among others have been victims of hunger as a result of war.
The effects of hunger are well known, the most painful one being the death of potentially productive people. Children in particular suffer permanent damage as a result of insufficient food. But is Africa not able to establish a food bank for her people? Does it mean food relief agencies and recipient governments cannot turn areas dependent on food aid into food exporting zones? Hunger should not be wielded as a weapon by governments or donors against certain parts and populations.
African countries have the knowledge and resources to eliminate hunger. Africa requires political transformation of the continent to politics based on economic interests of the people. The “food first” strategy for cutting hunger in Africa must take the will to do so. If all African countries and international partners played politics of “food first,” hunger would become a thing of the past. Imagine a country like Kenya is out to spend Ksh.2.5 billion for the constitution referendum late this year, and plans to spend Ksh.100 million to build a presidential residence, yet it has appealed for food aid for her people facing hunger in the Arid and Semiarid areas.
If the populations that are often victims of hunger were asked whether they would prefer fish or be taught how to fish, they would overwhelmingly vote for the latter. What Africa needs to do is to improve food availability and income of the poor through enhancing food productivity. Farmers should be supported to solve the problems of hunger and poverty bedeviling them. Raising the agricultural output of farmers would increase their incomes and food security, lower food prices, stimulate the economy as a whole and reduce poverty. Some researchers estimate that a one percent increase in crop production can help six million people (in Africa) raise their incomes above one U.S. dollar per day. Thus, a food first strategy whose thrust is to raise agriculture output could lead to huge cuts in Africa\'s hunger and poverty as a long-term strategy.
Resources should be radically upscaled to support farmers. Imagine if WFP, FAO, other relief agencies and governments put their energies to surplus food production. With irrigation cropping intensity can rise by 30%. Poverty can be 20 to 30% lower in areas where irrigation is intensively done. But surprisingly, only about 4% of arable land in Africa compared to 40% in South Asia is irrigated. Sadly, in the last decade, the amount of land under irrigation in Africa grew at a rate of between 0.5 to 0.7 % a year.
African countries and their partners must have a long-run vision that sees investments in the rural economy and open markets. It must promotes private initiatives as the key to cutting hunger and reducing poverty. African governments must involve the private sector to turn around years of urban bias and invest in rural areas, principally in transport, water, electricity and telecommunications. Food and cash crop technology is critical to raising agricultural productivity. Therefore, investment in all levels of education is imperative. In all, governments must create the legal and political environment to encourage this development.
All this should be done in the context of globalization which presents an opportunity to find new markets for new goods at higher prices, and increase both employment and wages. As a result of globalization, world trade in goods and services has grown from 21% of GDP to 28% in ten years. Globalization has meant the integration of financial markets and new flows of private investment funds, both directly, and in the form of portfolio investment, from the North to the South. Globalization has also meant the availability of new technologies, particularly in the areas of biotechnology and informatics that offer the opportunity to boost development.
For millions of people to live without worry of how to get the next meal, the “food first” strategy must be pursued with great zeal. But \"will\" cannot mean lofty words or stimulating rhetoric. It must mean both Africa and its partners making pragmatic priority oriented policy choices. This will has to be translated into real resources and redesigned programs aimed at food first through increased agricultural productivity.