According to estimates by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), almost 200 million Africans were undernourished at the dawn of the millennium.
More than 60 percent of the undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa live in Eastern Africa. The Hunger Task Force reiterates these facts as it states that ‘at the start of the 21st Century, sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing the largest and fastest increase in food insecurity worldwide’.
Nine years after the millennium’s dawn, the situation seems to have deteriorated. As we speak, hunger looms in the Horn, 10 million Kenyans are living at the brink of hunger; several media reports indicate that some children have already succumbed to its fatal pangs.
At independence, the country’s founding father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta made the clarion call, ‘Turudi mashambani’ (Let us return to the farms) urging people to return to agricultural production as a poverty alleviation strategy.
Little did he or anyone else at the time know, that his call was prophetic and that over 40 years later, his people and those within the region would still be battling the ravages of food insecurity.
In spite of its prevalence, food security is a right. Food security, according to the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPR) as a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active healthy life.
A right that has unfortunately been violated for various reasons. Politics plays a crucial role in food security or the lack of it.
Critics of the food policy of the UN system and the main donor community, argue ‘that food security is very much a matter of politics and that the problem is not shortage of food as such – there is basically enough food in the world – but a question of political will for fair distribution regardless of the consumer’s ability to pay’.
The recent (and probably ongoing) maize scam in Kenya is a case in point. But political goodwill is not limited to the national level, but also at the regional and international level. At a conference on African food and nutrition security held in Uganda five years ago by IFPRI, Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni raised the issue of food security as a political question.
Speaking on the issue, he is quoted as saying, “You cannot talk about total food security for Africa without talking about the need to gain access to rich western countries’ agricultural markets.”
Poverty has been cited as another cause of food insecurity in Africa. The Rome Declaration of 1996 made the connection between food insecurity and poverty clear, as well as the impact of the political environment.
The Declaration states that “Poverty is a major cause of food insecurity and sustainable progress in poverty eradication is critical to improve access to food...”
Some experts even argue that poverty is the root cause of food insecurity in Africa. Their argument is that it is people’s inability to gain access to food due to poverty that causes food insecurity.
They contend that when large populations of sub-Saharan Africans live in poverty, they also live with food insecurity. Despite increased agricultural output, population increase has been higher, so poverty still grows.
Poor policies, which put structure and systems before the people and their needs are also a major challenge in Africa.
Experts contend that when there’s uneven development in a country for political reasons, or when policies promote monopolistic large scale industries at the expense of small and cottage industries, this hurts those who are most vulnerable, thus propagating food insecurity.