by David Oliphant
- published on News24.com
From this information a few conclusions can be drawn regarding those affected by malnutrition, as well as some of the factors promoting this problem. Of the billion affected by chronic hunger, developing countries such as Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Ghana, Malawi, Mexico,Mozambique, Peru, Senegal and Uganda make up the vast majority of those nations requiring external aid to stem symptoms of poverty and extreme hunger. There is no surprise that developing countries suffer more acutely from problems of scarcity when 1.4 billion of the total developing population survive on $1.25 a day or less.The position of chronic hunger can largely be attributed to high degrees of poverty in these developing countries. Even though these countries are often major manufacturers of primary goods, these individuals cannot afford to effectively provide for themselves or their families. This therefore points to hunger and malnutrition being part of a larger problem. As Rachel Carson phrases it; a poverty stricken population within an economic system that recognises no other gods but profit and production.
In a system where the fundamental well-being of the population is second to the profits being generated, food is generally treated as any other commodity such as clothes, motor cars, etc., which ultimately means that those who can afford it will survive and those who cannot must simply go without. Common rights that should be enjoyed equally such as adequate access to quality food and food services are forgotten and seen as an unnecessary or unwanted expense by those in power. Even though our biological demand for food is as pertinent as our search for air with each breath, malnutrition remains an on-going scourge on those affected by extreme poverty due to their inability to compete with economically stronger consumers, often foreigners.
We therefore have to look at the short-term (acute) and long-term (structural) factors influencing the situation in poverty stricken areas that culminates in almost 20% of the world population suffering from chronic hunger.
Short-term or acute crisis
In attempting to address the short term factors influencing world hunger we assess the degree to which prices of food have soared in the past few years making it economically impossible for more and more people to buy quality food. We will discuss but a few reasons for this.
Firstly the sharp increases in petroleum prices have affected supply chains globally and has directly or indirectly been the driving force behind many corporate, profit based decisions leaving those suffering from chronic hunger able to buy even less food than before. Secondly, since many agricultural processes require petroleum as an input, this has therefore caused costs to increase at many levels of production. Thirdly, quite a few countries who were traditionally self-sufficient from an agricultural sense are now importing goods on a larger scale. These mass imports from previously strong agricultural suppliers will continue to raise global food prices. It is said many families in Haiti, where some of the worst slums exist, have succumb to an old tradition of selling and eating dried yellow dirt cakes to neighbours as a means to address hunger pains due to their greatly reduced buying power.
Furthermore, due to the global view of food being a commodity just like any other, investors have since the recession started investing in food and metal markets due to the anticipated food price increases. This investment comes on the back of food supply hoarding by many local governments. This highly capitalist environment plays a big role in the increase of global food prices.
This crisis has been met with great outrage by those suffering from malnutrition. In countries such as Mexico, Morocco, Senegal and Yemen violent riots and protests have broken out in an attempt to correct those factors adding to global malnutrition.
Long-term or structural crisis
As important as the acute crisis is, the structural or long-term crisis is the real reasoning for many of the developing countries being crippled by high degrees of chronic hunger. It is the reason that underpins the severity of the current situation.
The exodus of people from rural lands in developing countries has played a major role in not only increasing chronic hunger but also forming slums in urban areas. This migration is due to the lack of access to land mainly attributed to the inroads made by foreign agricultural corporations who force the local farmers from their land due to the low prices they are able to receive from suppliers compared the local farmers. The mass movement from rural areas into urban neighbourhoods in third world countries is often followed by the formation of slums and joblessness, leading to higher degrees of chronic hunger and malnutrition becoming the norm in developing countries. The chairman of a district in Lagos, Nigeria described it as “a massive growth in population within a stagnant or shrinking economy”. Further he says that globalisation has changed the demographic from the “urban poor” to the “urban destitute”. Under current third world economic structures, particularly in Africa and India, these individuals are almost seen as superfluous within the macroeconomic scheme of things.
One of the main reasons for the migration of small production farmers and labourers from rural lands is the adoption of “neoliberal” policies recommended by the World Bank, the IMF and even certain Western NGO’s working in developing countries. Ideologies of free-market principles which are promoted by the aforementioned bodies do little to aid the sustained success of small farmers in third-world countries. These principles are often enforced to the detriment of the population.
Free-market principles often involve a lack of government intervention in uplifting the smaller producers and thus paving the way for larger corporations to become profitable. This lack of government intervention often neglects the indigenous population. This means governments stop subsidising farmers for their purchases of fertilizer and other agricultural stock and withdraw subsidies of food to the poor as it is seen that open-market principles will eventually care for these destitute members of society. However Jeffrey Sachs, a free-trade shock analyst comments as follows, “The whole thing was based on the idea that if you take away the government for the poorest of the poor that somehow these markets will solve the problems, but markets can’t step in and won’t step in when people have nothing. And if you take away help, you leave them to die” (New York Times, October 15, 2007).
Another major structural problem is that of capitalist farmers versus subsistence farmers in third world countries. While subsistence farmers (many of the natives) sell only a small portion of their crops and keep the rest for their families, capitalist farmers (major corporations) produce crops at a maximum and sell at a maximum. Ultimately forcing subsistence farmers out of business and into urban slums where their families attempt to find new pathways to income, mostly unsuccessful.
A means to an end
Since we have discussed the causes and magnitude of chronic hunger that affects mostly third world countries, we are now in a position to propose certain solutions to such a deep-rooted problem.
Conceptually the solutions may seem easy but practically it is everything but. Governments must firstly and truthfully recognise the access to quality food as a human right and thus structure policies around this premise. Government intervention must take two forms, a commitment and an action to achieve those commitments. The food is available since production levels are adequate but all that lacks is the fundamental access by those whom are financially disabled by current food service policies.
In terms of the short-term factors, government can directly affect current food insecurities by providing necessary food programmes which fill the economic void. In Venezuela, feeding houses have been setup to help the poor. Government provides the food while volunteers are called upon to distribute. Furthermore, Venezuela has implemented a network of stores selling basic foodstuffs at significantly discounted prices.
Brazil tried an initiative of a direct subsidy to the poorest of the poor. This however had the effect of making the population dependent on the government whereas the Venezuelan food scheme brought about the development of the population through social improvement.
Urban gardens have been successfully implemented in Cuba as a means of providing food and a source of income for the urban poor, offering creative solutions to a complex problem. This is how government can take a direct step towards reducing the impact of rising food prices that continue to price the third world countries out of the market. Care must be taken however as to the implementation and aims of the initiative otherwise an undesirable consequence will be the result as seen in Brazil.
Within the long-term context, governments must make the advancement of local agricultural producers a priority. The former MD of the World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said, “Today the attention of the world’s policy makers is focused on the sub-prime woes, and the financial crises. But the real crisis is that of hunger and malnutrition; this is the real problem that should grab the world’s attention. We know that 75 percent of the world’s poor people are rural and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is today, more than ever, a fundamental instrument for fighting hunger, malnutrition, and for supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction.” (All-Africa Global Media, February 19, 2008).
This means that government must change its focus from the production of export crops. It may be good for the balance of payments but production orientated towards exports does not help feed the local population or provide a healthy rural economy. Attempting this requires government to subsidise subsistence farmers and take a stand against free-market principles enforced by global bodies, not to disregard free-market strategies but rather to assist local farmers to be productive and competitive with foreign producers instead of leaving them to sink or swim in such a highly contested market.
Governments must institute the development of community councils and social support systems that aim to improve the skills of the local population within rural areas of third world countries. These councils and support systems will facilitate growth of the agricultural sector, both in terms of implementation and regulation. Education will be its focus and sustainability its aims. Education must be a focus to develop the skills and income earning ability of these local producers. With the correct government initiatives in place, members of the community will realise the importance of developing themselves and thus command basic human rights.
In conclusion, conquering chronic hunger and malnutrition must be seen as a priority with equal access to quality food synonymous to its aims. Governments of third world countries must see the feeding of their people as a long-term responsibility requiring sustainable solutions. Emergency solutions to short-term factors of malnutrition exist but other structural solutions must be evident such as sustained government intervention to improve and develop agricultural activities in developing countries. Only then will chronic hunger, from which so many people suffer, be given the attention it deserves.