AFRICA has the potential to feed itself and even have a surplus to feed hungry mouths beyond the seas. So why doesn’t it?
Time and time again we have come across appeals by international institutions such as the United Nations, media outlets, and non-governmental organisations, asking us to spare a dollar or two bound for Africa.
The latest appeal is by the United Nations which estimated last week that nearly 2.5 million people in the Sahel belt are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, particularly food.
The UN has started a campaign to raise more than $2 billion to feed people from areas, including Sudan and the Central African Republic. You will be forgiven to think that the food crisis in this region is predominantly as a result of the ongoing conflicts in the region, and should therefore end there.
Remarkably, the UN is adamant that other countries away from the region but within Africa are facing hunger. These include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and The Gambia.
As Africans, we must reassess this persistence of hunger and establish what more needs to be done to tackle such challenges in our continent. We need to re-examine the important role that we Africans have to play in helping to inform debate and shape effective policies around these fundamental issues. We can start by improving the following:
Better intra-African trade:
It is reasonable to argue that although trade among African countries has gradually improved, particularly as a result of more economic alliances such as the East African Community where members have continued to open markets to allow free movement of people and goods/services, there remains significant challenges.
Several countries have not fully embraced the idea of trading with one another – a process that can help tackle hunger.
It is understood that although hunger is reported in Africa almost daily, certain African countries in fact have food surplus and are willing and able to trade with other African countries at reasonable prices, provided that trade barriers and other obstacles such as corruption are eliminated.
For instance, in 2007, the Guardian reported that although Malawi had record harvests of corn in 2007, it did not necessarily guarantee good times for Malawian farmers.
In fact, the paper argued that farmers across the country were wondering where to sell their harvest. With better intra-African trade frameworks in place however, such corn surplus from Malawi could have been sold to Zambia, Mozambique or Tanzania, or to other regional countries facing food shortages.
This move could have improved the livelihood of farmers in Malawi while at the same time helping to tackle hunger in neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique by providing competition in the marketplace with potential to reduce prices.
Active role of governments:
Governments across Africa have a duty to continue advocating for the removal of the United States and European Union’s agricultural subsidies to allow African farmers to trade on a level playing field.
Improved agricultural exports by African countries would not only improve the current account of balance of payments, but it would also contribute immensely in attracting large investments in agriculture.
In addition, African governments have a duty to challenge harmful conditions that are more often than not attached to humanitarian aid to Africa.
For example, in April 2007, the US government kindly announced that it would give the Malawian government working in partnership with the World Food Programme an estimated $20 million over a three year period to expand its programme of feeding school children with CBS – corn-soya blend – which is a mix of maize, meal and soya flour, vitamins and sugar.
The challenge is, the US government instructed that the money had to be spent on American corn, harvested by American farmers, transported by American ships. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this practice apart from the fact that when all these logistical costs are added up, it does not make economic sense for corn to be bought from America, instead it should be sourced locally where the impact is much greater in terms of the local prices and bring benefits to the local economy.
Similar schemes were announced elsewhere including in Kenya and Guinea, bringing the total to $85.9 million.
A shift from primitive agricultural methods to more mechanised, technical and commercial-led principles is crucial today more than ever before. Africans must take the initiative and apply technology-led methods to improve the production cycle, including harvest, storage, processing and export.
With the right technical assistance, agriculture production is bound to improve. In addition, there must be a change of perceptions, especially among the young generation that agriculture is a primitive economic activity carried out by the less educated and/or rural population. More young people should be encouraged to explore the dividends of agribusiness.