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There are currently 1.2 billion people on this earth living on less than $1 U.S dollar a day, and 90% of these people are living in sub-Saharan Africa (Thirtle, et al., 2003). The African food crises dates back to the early 1960’s. Not surprisingly, The UN Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger labeled Africa as “the region facing the greatest challenge in attaining the Millennium Development Goal for hunger” (Sanchez, P., & Swaminathan, M., 2005). This goal was to reduce the number of people who suffer from hunger by half between 1990 and 2015.
However, this goal was not met and the prevalence of hunger in Africa is persistent and rising again. Africa is experiencing a decline in overall food production per capita. Farmers here produce the lowest food output per hectare of any of the major regions in the world, and its farm households account for a majority of the world’s most impoverished population. How can this be? How are farmers among the hungriest in the world? The UN task force has concluded that for most of Africa, the amount of local food being produced must increase in order to fight malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and many other diseases (Sanchez, P.
, & Swamiathan, M., 2005). As a wealthy nation we must work alongside the corporate world and private sectors to help feed the starving people in Africa, as well as helping them to understand their own potential.
In the book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, we learn about the particular season called the hunger season in a small community in Kenya.
The hunger season is so detrimental that children are even born with the name Wanjala, which means hunger. Wanjala is by far the most popular name because “the hunger season can be the longest, stretching from the time the food from the previous harvest in August and September runs out to the time when the new crops begin to come in” (Thurow, 2013). The small hold farmers are often the country’s poorest and hungriest people. Very few families escape the annual wanjala especially in the Mount Elgon region of the country. It is known for the production of corn but it ironically also is the region that leads the country in rates of malnutrition.
Sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, did not benefit from the green revolution in the later part of the 20th century. In fact there has been no technological revolution at all. Here Fertilizers are not used by some farmers on staple food crops and because of this there is a deterioration of soil health in many parts of Africa compared to many other developing regions. Most of the crops are rain fed, as opposed to irrigated, due mostly to the fact that there are no major river systems, but also because rain is very infrequent, and there is limited electricity for irrigation pumps. Africa’s food production could increase exponentially if they replenished soil fertility (Sanchez, P., & Swaminathan, M., 2005).
The World Food Program claims to be the “leading humanitarian organization saving lives and changing lives, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience.” As an example Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries and has dealt with two major famines in the past 25 years. Almost 10 million metric tons of food-aid has been sent over the last several decades. In the 1980’s Ethiopia was receiving about 25 percent of all food aid deliveries being sent to Africa, and this percentage has only declined to 20 percent in the early 2000’s (World Food Program).
There are many other organizations whose aim is to end the hunger season with food aid in Africa and a major one is the One Acre Fund. Andrew Youn traveled to western Kenya and had had an epiphany that would ultimately help to start to end hunger. “He watched one farmer’s adolescent daughter stretch a thin mixture of maize porridge for the family’s only meal of the day” (Thurow, 2013). This image would be ingrained in his mind forever. He decided to provide access to the seeds and soil nutrients and to give the farmers planting advice in order to help them grow their crops more effectively. Youn says, “agriculture is the fundamental humanitarian challenge of our time” (Thurow, 2013). It was important that the farmers prayed over their seeds to help them grow, but that was no longer working for the farmers, they were not seeing the results they wanted. The One Acre Fund helped teach the farmers how to space out the seeds instead of just throwing them randomly, and how important water and fertilizer were to ensure the crops would grow. This was on successful bottom up approach. By understanding how important it was for the farmers to pray over the crops, the One Acre Fund was able to come up with a plan for the farmers to meet at their churches and learn how to properly plant the seeds while still allowing them to pray over them. (Thurow, 2013)
Since 1961 the average annual production of major food crops in sub-Saharan Africa has risen by only 1.6 percent, however the population has increased by over 2.8 percent. This poses as a Malthusian type threat to food producers as they have been constantly lagging behind the population growth percent. Even in 1961 there were many vulnerable and undernourished populations, specifically children (Singer, H. 1989). An economic collapse on the continent subsequently caused a decline in food production in Africa between the 1970’s and 1980’s. Because of this economic collapse more and more food aide was flowing into Africa but overall food production was still declining. This posed as a great concern to donors, government policymakers, and NGO’s. Some believed that there might be a direct relationship between food aide and the declining food production in Africa. Food aide can be potentially harmful because when food is brought into the country the national food prices tend to drop which decreases incentives for local farmers to produce food (Singer, H. 1989). This would not pose as big of a threat if farmers were capable of increasing their crop production, however because there is a lack of farmable land, and knowledge about how to properly cultivate that land, this is not possible. Even though total food aide in the world has declined the total percentage of food aid received by sub-Saharan Africa since 1990 has gone from 20% to 50% (Murphy, S., & McAfee, K. (2005). There was an increase in food aid due to droughts, floods, and conflict in many of the countries. Food aid can help and play a role in addressing these problems, as long as it is known that many parts of Africa have the potential to grow their own food and ensure that no one dies of hunger (Murphy, S., & McAfee, K. (2005). The One Acre Fund is an example of a way to inspire communities to be self-sufficient.
India’s success story might be one that sub-Saharan Africa can learn and benefit from knowing. Sub Saharan Africa and India, in the 1960’s, were both producing around 50 million tons of food grains, or cereals. Today, India produces over 150 tons thanks to the green revolution and technological improvements that occurred in part of the Indian sub-continent. In contrast, the food production in Africa has been almost stagnant at around 50 million tons. India used to be the biggest recipient of food-aide, in the 1960’s, however the aid failed to reach the poorest of the poor people. Because of the resources provided by food aid the Indian government has been able to afford irrigation facilities as well as an efficient transport system allowing food to be stocked, and any remaining aide to be brought to the extremely impoverished (Singer, H. 1989). India might be one of the greatest success stories. By focusing on their agriculture production they were able to improve the fight to end hunger.
When it comes to foreign aid the question should not be “should rich nations help the poor?” but rather, “what role should rich nations play in helping the poor?” As a rich nation, the U.S. enjoys the advantages of globalization; it is our moral duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Americans live in an affluent world with enough food being produced to feed the whole planet. Global wealth is so disproportionate that even relocating just 1% of it could aid in eradicating extreme poverty. “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger” (Thurow, 2013). Africa has the potential to record the biggest jump in food production of any region by applying technologies and infrastructure and financial incentives that are common almost everywhere else (Thurow, 2013). Many nations in Africa need to be educated to the fact that they may have the key to success right in front of them. While food aide is helpful, using a bottom up approach at the community level will yield the greatest results in the reduction of hunger.
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