MALNOURISHMENT – A GROWING CONCERN – Food as a Weapon

The number of hungry people has fallen by over 200-million since 1992, so says the 2014 Hunger Map and a report titled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World: Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition” jointly prepared by World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

They go on to say that 805 million people, or one in nine of the world’s population, go to bed hungry each night. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, this is even worse, with one in four people suffering from undernourishment. The report says that sub-Saharan Africa faces the most severe challenges in securing its food; mainly due to sluggish income growth, high poverty rates and poor infrastructure, which hampers physical and distributional access.

It states: “In general, in Africa, there has been insufficient progress towards international hunger targets, especially in the sub-Saharan region,”

The report also says limited progress had been made in improving access to safe drinking-water and providing adequate sanitation facilities, while the region continues to face challenges in improving dietary quality and diversity, particularly for the poor. I did some work in the Southern DRC (based out of Lubumbashi in 2006) and we noted then that dehydration, was the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Dehydration as the result of diarrhoea, caused by unsanitary drinking water. For those who survive they are then in turn faced with stunted growth, which is made worse by poor food nourishment.

This report just published confirms that the situation has not changed in the past 8 years, limited progress had been made in improving access to safe drinking-water and providing adequate sanitation facilities. In fact the report notes, that progress has been so poor, that the WFP target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015, will not be realised.

The report highlights the following to move forward:

1. Sustained political commitment at the highest level
2. Placing food security and nutrition at the top of the political agenda
3. Creating an enabling environment for improving food security and nutrition through adequate investments
4. Better policies, legal frameworks and stakeholder participation
5. Institutional reforms are also needed to promote and sustain progress.

Plus an integrated plan focussing on:

1. Public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity
2. Better access to inputs, land, services, technologies and markets
3. Measures to promote rural development
4. Social protection for the most vulnerable (persons and countries)
5. Including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters
6. Specific nutrition programmes, especially to address micro-nutrient deficiencies in mothers and children under five.
As reports go it is a very good piece of work tackling many complex issues and outlining clear broad action plans. As with most reports though, I take issue with their expected outcomes, to broad, not specific and in my opinion, to broad. Its like position papers from government departments or even aid agencies. It does not tackle the problem head stating what is at fault and what needs to be done in clear action plans; to do that will require stepping on toes or worse – maybe even naming names!

Regional conflicts, greedy power hungry warlords all demanding access to food, how it is priced and distributed. This can affect when and if crops are planted, and who gets the produce, and they who sells it. Food can be and is used as a weapon, to control people or even to get votes, Zimbabwe and South Africa are cases in point.

The cost of food is then another key factor, Lester Brown wrote in 2011’s “Food Issue” of the Foreign Policy magazine:

Americans generally spend less than 10% of their income on food, but there are 2 billion people who live in poverty around the globe who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food.

A slight increase in the cost of food for these persons could be life or death, and the costs when they do escalate, are beyond the control of the consumer, at times manipulated by external forces, for their own (political or economic) gain.

On a sad and macabre note, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China ventured beyond their borders in 2008 to grow grain in cheaper regions, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, where, of course, people where starving and did not get any of the planted grain.

So where to from here; I think if we cast our eyes to Burkina Faso, we might see a way out, People Power. The people need to speak and speak loudly in the only way the politicians and regional leaders will listen.

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