Why is the world hungry?

As the UN humanitarian coordinator declared, earlier last month, the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945 with 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria facing hunger and starvation, we should ask ourselves, how did the world get to the point where we are unable to make sure that the most basic of human needs, access to food and good nutrition, is satisfied for millions of people, with children being the biggest victims. Although the response to this is riddling, we can imagine all the parameters embedded in answering this simple question: why is the world hungry? The common determinant in the four previously cited countries is conflict, but these four countries are only the most flagrant cases when we learn from the World Food Programme (WFP) hunger map that about 795 million people, or 1 in 9 of the world’s population, go to bed hungry each night and the blatant discrepancy that exists between higher and lower income nations, even though the WPF confirms that there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone. Conflict and starvation are only among the consequences of deeper issues that need to be addressed.

The logistics of world hunger

The International Community met in 2015 to set 17 Goals as the framework to attaining Sustainable Development with the hope to improve people’s lives across the globe by 2030 with Goal 2 aiming to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. It is therefore quite surprising, despite the decline in the prevalence of hunger recorded by the UN (15 per cent for 2000 to 2002, to 11 per cent for 2014 to 2016) to hear that the World is facing, yet again, a hunger crisis. The most affected region after Southern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment for any region with every 1 in 4 people affected in 2014-2016 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World.

While drought, conflict and poverty remain the most widely accepted causes of hunger, a few factors should be examined to pinpoint its roots. Indeed, if we primarily take into account the resource factor, 60% of the world’s arable land suitable for crop production is located in Africa but both national and international investments in the sector of agriculture remain insignificant in proportion to productivity even though 2/3 of the population rely solely on farming for their livelihood. The problem therefor does not lie within the available resources but ensues from three major factors, which we have identified as the absolute hindrance to sustainable economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa and which, if solved could be the clues to tackling the hunger hurdle.

Three steps to solving the problem

Good governance
Governance and policy-making strategies have become the focal points of the Development rhetoric in Africa and for just reason. Sub-Saharan Africa has been for decades now plagued with a succession of predatory regimes that have, in many instances, not only worsened the situation in their countries but also often left a trail of instability sometimes hard to dissolve. Good governance is defined in the 1992 Word Bank Governance and Development Report as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development”. Budget management and distribution to the appropriate development sectors is crucial, the concept of “Smart budgeting” in finance can be applied to this case scenario, developing inter-national budgeting initiatives where the available resources are inventoried and distributed accordingly not only inside individual states but create a system of resource pooling to ensure inclusion and provision for the whole region.

Africa is a “resource bank” for both material and intellectual resources, therefore there should be collective action from the leaders to increase resource exploitation and sharing, to develop internal markets and self-reliance which would, in turn, increase their weight on the global markets. Investments should be primarily focused on resource mining and development as ways to attract and retain the intellectual resources and labor force that Africa is losing due to lack of opportunities causing individuals, whether educated or not, to migrate to higher income nations. The creation of opportunities will also be a way to diminish the occurrence of violent conflicts and extremism. It is clear, not only in Africa but also around the world that people are more inclined to take part in terrorism-related activities when they have no other options to support themselves and their families.

Empowerment of women

Economic and social inclusion
The role of women in the economy is clear but often underestimated. As the major labor force in agriculture which constitute for them a way to sustain their families and invest in education for their children, it becomes perspicuous that in Africa women are, if not the major element, one of the most pre-eminent components and investors in Development. Consequently one of the biggest mistakes made by African civil societies is focusing their efforts on development strategies that do not fully incorporate women’s contribution. In its March 2011 working paper, the FAO has noted, “the international development community has recognised that agriculture is an engine of growth and poverty reduction in countries where it is the main occupation of the poor. Women make essential contributions to the agricultural and rural economies in all developing countries” and although their various activities constitute a direct benefaction to the economy, they are usually not considered “economically active employment”.
Access to financing remains a big barrier to women’s economic inclusion; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of the Women’s World Banking declared “There is a strong connection between women’s access to financial products and services and greater opportunity not only for that woman herself, her family and her community, but really for the nation as a whole. Women are far more likely than men to spend money they have under their discretion on the education of their children, the health care for their family and improving their housing. And those are the kinds of developmental changes that can really have long-term intergenerational impact.” (AFI, March 2016)

Green revolution

The share of agriculture in the economy in the Sub-Saharan Africa region is indubitable but the problem that poses itself is that more emphasis is put on crop production aimed for export on the Global-market rather than consumption production. With its growing population and a 2.3 Billion projected increase by the UN by the end of the century, the inability to produce food to meet the population’s demand is alarming, as the FAO puts it “Africa has become a net importer of food and of agricultural products, despite its vast agricultural potential” and “agricultural export revenue alone can no longer pay for agricultural imports (FAO, 2012). It transpires clearly that, local production for consumption should be the focal preoccupation rather than export production, which resulted in enduring trade deficits which in turn are of the many reasons Africa’s economy is stagnant and incapable of matching competition on the Global scale. For a green revolution to work not only does food need to be produced locally to reap all the benefits, it is necessary to boost the development of adequate infrastructures, to heavily invest in rural areas and develop national markets to promote brain and resource circulation.

Fighting World hunger should be a Global priority and it will be necessary to carefully evaluate all the issues that make it difficult to overcome this problem. It will no longer be sufficient to only provide the affected regions with food; in fact, the ultimate goal should be insuring food security. Correctly assessing the issues that we have discussed above could greatly contribute to solving the poverty problem, which would consequently participate in progressively attaining ‘zero hunger’ for Sub-Saharan Africa. By end large, lack of resources is not the greatest problem but the management of those resources is what causes the most damage.