By Tony Simbowo:
EuroAfrica Media Network Correspondent for East Africa
The United States of America has less than 20 percent of its work force in the agricultural sector yet it can afford to feed its entire population. On the other hand, many African countries have about 80 percent of their populations working in the agricultural industry yet they can hardly afford to feed themselves. Every year, thousands and sometimes millions die of hunger in Sub Saharan Africa. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) the Food Price Index for March 2008 was 57 percent higher than that for March 2007. This, the organization attributes to increased demand for food consumables in the developing world and especially Africa, the increased cost of oil, drought, global speculation on commodity prices and the diversion of crops, such as corn, for use in making bio-fuels. Street protests and riots over food prices have already been witnessed in Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and India as cash strapped citizens watch their incomes being eaten into by more expenditures.
Experts say that the effect of these increasing costs of commodities and foods has had a greater effect on the middle class.
This has meant that more and more people in the middle class are fuing government budgets while their earnings remain the same. As such, the analysts contend, many in this group are increasingly becoming bankrupt or lowering their standards of living as they can no longer cope with the growing costs.
To check runaway food price inflation, many governments are now opting to control the prices of commodities to ease the lives of their citizens. In Egypt, for example, the government is already subsidizing the cost of bread and other foods for those who cannot afford them. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently warned about a growing disaffection with increasing costs of living across the world. Many nations in Africa and the rest of the developing world are already reporting skyrocketing inflation rates.
Talking to the Reuters News Service, the World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran said that many especially in the developing world can now afford less food as a result of increasing prices. Noting that it is mainly the prices of staples such as rice, wheat and corn that are increasing, Ms. Sheeran called for the developed nations to help avert the looming hunger and food crisis in Africa and the rest of the developing world. US President George W. Bush has already offered US $770 million as international food aid for countries struggling with food shortages and riots.
The World Bank says that it has developed an intervention strategy through its financial arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). More funding is expected to be channeled towards sustainable food production projects and other initiatives with the main aim of improving food security in the developing world.
Zablon Wagalla the head of a Nairobi-based environmental Non Governmental Organization, ‘Trees for Clean Energy Network’, believes that a greater paradigm shift towards proper environmental management will go a long way in helping solve food crises across the globe. What many food security policy experts are now calling for is that more emphasis be put on sustainable agro horticultural production techniques as well as the proper management of soils if the frequent food crises that have been witnessed in Africa are to end. Similarly, there is a growing feeling that little focus is being put on developing the capacities of small scale farmers who form the greater part of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa.