Pambazuka – Food crisis in the Sahel: Real problem, false solutions

Pambazuka – Food crisis in the Sahel: Real problem, false solutions.

8 million nigeriens, 1.6 million chadians, 500,00 malians are affected by the current famine in niger.

the country is essentially in a state of crisis– covered up by the previous president who was recently overthrown, but now a spotlighted concern.

‘In Niger, women cover a desert-like environment in search of anthills in order to dig up and retrieve grains of millet, corn and other crops that the ants have collected,’ tells Charles Bambara, in charge of communications for Oxfam GB in Dakar..

dire circumstances spiral into a cycle of detrimental factors that don’t improve any of the initial conditions:

In this way people begin to weigh on their environment, to destabilise the ecosystem in order to survive themselves in the face of a nature that has become hostile… herders to sell off their livestock that they can no longer support in order to earn enough to supply the market. These peasants, who used to produce for themselves and sell their surplus, therefore simply come to live from others. But when they sell off their livestock in order to supply themselves with food, they end up facing a level of inflation marked by deteriorating terms of exchange. In Chad, where animals have fallen to half-price, inflation has reached a 35 per cent increase on 2009. In the six regions of this country of 10 million inhabitants, 1.5 million people find themselves food-insecure.

the current problems are traced to structural adjustment programs. when the world bank and imf set regulations that limited investment, countries were barred from developing agriculture systems that would ensure food sovereignty. production plummeted, food aid was the prescribed band-aid (insert images of hungry african children). “As a result, since 1980 sub-Saharan Africa has been the only region of the world where average per capita food production has continued to decline over the last 40 years.[3]”

strategies to fix the problem are similar to those used in the 2005 food crisis in niger: the international community (UN, OXfam, WFP) will throw millions of dollars of aid- which has already been slow to come.

looking to the root causes of the crisis, conditions that have come with aid in the past lack policies to protect producers (technical assistance, subsidies, price-stabilization). opening markets for import has further weakened already fragile african markets.

“We could go even further towards the worst of it and look at the development of biofuels and the extent to which more and more land is being diverted away from food production. Essentially, we will be growing to power cars rather than fill granaries. And in July this year, Burkina Faso has inaugurated its first industrial unit of production, while the country remains vulnerable in the face of a food crisis.”

the nigerien president, Niamey expresses the following frustrations: structural adjustment deterred government interests in protecting agriculture. even the most rural areas have become dependent on non-traditional diets because of how common imported foods are. neighboring countries have food surplus, but politicians opt for imported aid.

in sum, agriculture is not a priority for african politicians, but needs to be. aid does little to ensure stability and food sovereignty.

****

information like this feeds my anxiety about the state of agriculture in Africa in the next few decades. changes to aid conditions and policy reform in regards to agriculture are urgently needed. it’s difficult to tell just what changes need to be made, which innovations work and which don’t, and who the “bad guys” are, but this crisis begs a re-assessment of priorities. Niamey puts it best:

The challenge, in the face of these recurrent food crises in Africa, is to make agriculture more human, to think of it according to its original function.

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