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Hunger Politics: Africa Dancing in the Dark

Introduction
“The only strategy would be to make Africa believe that it is ravaged by hunger and could only combat the plague with supports that must come from external cabal forces. If that is achieved, then Africa is destroyed,” these were the lamenting words of Dr Olaseinde Arigbede, national coordinator, United Small and Medium Scale Farmers of Nigeria (USMEFAN) recently at a consultative meeting entitled ‘The Politics of Hunger’ which held in Abuja, Nigeria.
The consultative meeting was an arena where African agriculture in general which is now at crossroads was x-rayed with all the myths and hypes exposed.

Great deal of crimes is committed against Africa by its ‘development partners’ who have continued to intimidate Africa whenever and wherever they confront African leaders. These intimidations come in form of mere statements such as “Africa Cannot Feed Itself” but such claims not only humiliate Africa but still have very heavy underpinnings which have so far succeeded in keeping Africa from flying.
A cursory look reveals that such statements are accepted and applied by poorly informed African leaders whose uncritical consciences are stampeded by this belief.
Hunger has become a political tool for various kinds of manipulations of people and nations, with specifically devastating impacts on the poor. Africa has been particularly afflicted by this game, Mr Nnimmo Bassey, executive director/chairman of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of The Earth Nigeria (FoEN) said.
In the meantime, the idea of fighting hunger has become big business as well with multinationals in food industry and transnational seed engineers among others cashing in to rake billions of dollars from poorly informed and defended nations and people.
Food aid, with the connotation of philanthropy has become nothing short of big business and tool for crass manipulation and intimidation of those adjudged hungry, Bassey added.
Africa is not the world’s leading impoverished and hungry continent that cannot feed itself if the ‘partners’ would simply accept that fact. But instead, Africa is always used for posters of hunger even in Africa by some ‘illiterate’ leaders and of course the development partners.
According to Ian Illuminato, Friends of the Earth USA, Africa was first in the world to be tricked into dismantling its indigenous agriculture policies to give way to the western version of such home-made policies. The new policies actually were intended to enrich its propagators at the dare expense of Africa. But one thing still remains certain! With Africa standing as another name for hunger, it still controls export of primary agricultural products on which the western industrial emancipation sits even today.
Africa has been advised severally that part of its problem is that it is over populated. However, responding to this claim, Olaseinde said that according to Matson, over-population is a function of number, consumption and availability of food which is described as the ecosyn. Only six nations in Africa but 12 nations in Europe have population density of 500 people to 100 hectares of land. If that is so, why then is Africa considered every time as an over-populated continent, the USMEFAN chief wondered.

The problems
The major problem facing Africa is not the highlighted challenges but its leadership and governance deficiencies. While this hurdle is political, it is also bureaucratic and as well intellectual.
Trans-National Corporations hold the world to ransom both South and North, however, the effects of their agri-business tendencies are felt more in the South than in the north. Although much has not happened in Nigeria from the effects of the business styles of the trans-national corporations, it was obvious that other countries in Africa where their products have been accepted and tested have sad commentaries to share.
The second problem is the unequal competition from Industrial Export oriented option of food production.
Are we talking of the collapse and even decay of all social sources of recuperation as the forces of family, educational institution, religion, civil society, class, etc., resulting in profound social debilitation in the face of great challenges.
These sums up the bed rock of the problems that militate Africa’s ability to succeed.

False solutions
Having convinced most of the African leaders on ‘Hungry Africa’ there was need to proffer solutions but whether such solutions would actually lift Africa from the mud is yet another issue to be discussed.
Solutions put to the table for Africa to evaluate for its redemption from hunger include a shift from fossil energy consumption to biofuel. While Africa is yet to unravel the benefits as against the odds of biofuel technology, farming genetic modified seeds and other organisms (GMOs) was hauled and it has landed on some African soils causing serious harm both to man and the entire biodiversity. New face of GMOs now has been to encourage nations to go into commercial farming, a practice that would certainly displace the small holder farmers. A critical case of this has been displayed in Kwara State of Nigeria where Saraki’s led government displaced the local small holder farmers for his Zimbabwean farmers who received heavy subventions from the government to produce commodities that are actually meant for export. In Ghana, Alhassan Musah, ABN/RAINS, Ghana, said that in November 2007 RAINS discovered massive destruction of vegetation cover over a large stretch of land near a village within the White Volta River basin about 30 kilometres south of the Northern region of Ghana. He said the destruction was to give way for a plantation meant for biofuel crops.
Another solution has been to offer food aid whenever there are indications of hunger in Africa. Although this solution cuts across everywhere there are emergencies in the world but Africa in particular has been marked a standing beneficiary of food aids. Bassey has some details to inform readers concerning the much touted food aid. According to him, food aid follows food prices, not food needs of the poor. In 2007, food aid fell by 15% while grain prices soared.
When prices are low, rich countries sell their surpluses through food aid, he said.
According to USAID (2008) key objective was “to lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands”.
In effect, there are three kinds of food aid namely, programme, project and emergency aids. But few facts about the food aid programmes are that 75% of food aid from the US must be bought, processed, transported and distributed by US companies. Also only 4 companies control 84% of the transport & delivery of food aid in the world while recipient countries are pressured to accept genetically modified grains in form of food aids.
Structural Adjustment Programme is another solution proffered to developing world including Africa. But statistics show that nations that adopted this solution which included Nigeria had their hands completely burnt.
According to statistics Ghana’s rice imports doubled when the nation reduced its rice tariffs from 100 to 20% as a result of the World Bank’s SAP advice. Cameroon, after lowering tariff to 25% saw poultry imports increase by about six-fold. Senegal’s 70% of the poultry industry wiped out in recent years because of EU’s domestic poultry policy in support of their local poultry farmers. Ghana’s domestic rice accounted for 43% of the domestic market in 2000 but only 29% in 2003 due to SAP.
Rice imports in that country increased from 250,000 tonnes in 1998 to 415,150 tonnes in 2003 leaving 66 percent of rice producers recording negative returns, leading to loss of employment.
Cote d’Ivoire’s poultry imports increased by 650% between 2001 and 2003, domestic production fell by 23% while in Mozambique, vegetable oil imports increased by 500% between 2000 and 2004 and as a result, local production dropped from 21,000 tonnes in 1981 to 3,500 in 2002.
The big one was to set up the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). On a face value, AGRA was everything Africa needed to come out of woods but investigations show that AGRA could be far from what Africa needs to be self dependent in food production. The link AGRA has with some known development partners show that bird of a feather must flock together.
Although Kofi Annan of Ghana was made its chairman which gave AGRA an African face, it is actually initiated by Ford & Rockefeller Foundations and seeks to achieve expansion of industrial agriculture into the Global South through promotion of “high-yielding” hybrid varieties of rice, wheat and corn. The concept supports packaging of inputs such as high input hybrid seeds, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicides, irrigation (water) while at the same time contribute to government programs such as credit, research & extension.
While AGRA seeks to recycle the Green Revolution (GR), we need to review the status of the GR in Asia where over 1000 local rice variety lost in Indonesia during 1970 – 1990 due to the GR. The revolution also had hidden cost of pesticides where about 3 million poisoning every year in the world was recorded. Contamination of water systems, soil and food as well as chemical residues were observed in mother’s milk in Indonesia.
In 2006, the Rockefeller, apart from using AGRA as an institution to bring Africa into accepting GMOs, Monsanto and other seed companies have approached various governments in Africa, convincing them to embrace the new farming technology. Today, countries like Burkina Faso where BT cotton was accepted had small holder farmers jettisoned from farming practice with widespread poverty and pollution in that country.
Yes Africa needs a green revolution in its unadulterated form but for AGRA to deliver this would be impossible, Mamadou GOÏTA, Executive Director, IRPAD/Africa, Bamako Mali said.
Perhaps the most recent is the turning of Africa into an arena for land grabs. This is a big business now with African leaders parceling off chunks of their agricultural rich lands in exchange for ‘agro-dollar’ for cultivation of agro fuel-crops or outright exports back to the investing nations. In order to acquire 400,000 hectares of land in fertile southern Sudan, a US company has moved into Sudan, a country branded undemocratic by the US government and which as a result does not maintain any diplomatic ties with the US, Friends of the Earth International said.

Putting the facts straight
As at November 2010, global statistics show that current total world population was 6.8 billion with undernourished people in the world hitting 1.03 billion. Overweight people in the world were 1.16 billion while obese people in the world were 344 million.
98% of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries (FAO, 2010). In the USA,
up to 12% of the population go hungry and up to 50 million people are food insecure. 1n 2008 up to 28 million were on the food stamp programme.
Hunger situation in Asia is second only to Africa with Africa ranking as the second largest continent, second only to same Asia. In effect, Africa is larger than China, Europe and the USA put together and could give each inhabitant of the world, land the size of two football fields each.
35% of Africa’s expanse is perfectly good crops and animals’ feed land.
40% of Africa’s expanse is water -full of food, mineral and other resources.
10% of Africa is tropical rain forest, brimming over with biodiversity and other important resources.
Only 15% of Africa is desert which is by no means a dead loss.
Africa is highly endowed with hydro, geothermal, solar and wind energy resources and has continued to supply the North with food and industrial resources today, just as it bore on its resilient shoulders, Europe’s Industrial Revolution.
Africa’s 47 mainland and 3 Island nations span tropical, equatorial and mediterranean climatic zones.
Despite the obstructions and distractions placed in Africa’s path to self-sufficiency in food production, about 75 per cent of its citizens who live and work in the rural areas of the continent, still feed their nations and supply raw materials to their fledgling industries.

Way forward
Africa needs to learn from Asia's mistakes and one way to start this is for African farmers to explore local agro-ecosystems and what they can offer, rather than applying technologies that are detached from the local system.
In fact, agro-ecosystem development may be more important than any revolution.
As Africa still has a legacy of local wisdom, these not-so-new approaches to farming can be further improved with appropriate people based technology.
With the world facing multiple crises such as natural resource erosion, climate change, globalisation and financial crisis, a different approach is needed to develop agriculture and food security for communities and nations.
Africa should seek for ways of empowering small holder farmers as GM crop development is driven mainly by agrichemical firms which put heavy emphasis on the use of herbicides and herbicide-tolerant crops. Cases of failures have been recorded globally including in Europe where some weeds were contaminated by herbicides giving rise to what was called super weeds.
GM crops are most suited for large-scale commercial growers where most farming techniques are mechanized including labour. As if that is not enough, planted seed outlaws seed-saving and self-reliance because they are patented.
Agro-ecology offers more cost-effective solutions to patents, expensive seeds, or problematic pesticides.
Push for alternatives: agro-ecological approaches, seed saving etc.
“If we do persist with business as usual, the world’s people cannot be fed over the next half century. It will mean more environmental degradation, and the gap between the haves and the have nots will expand”, - Professor Robert T. Watson, Director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

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