The global politics of hunger—the way forward to combat the continuum of how the other half dies


By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

It is more than 30 years ago when Susan George wrote her classic book- How The Other Half Dies, it was regarded as the most intelligent, the most urgent and thought provoking book on truly vital subject, and that is the trend of world food politics. Working with a transnational institute, Susan George shows the most pressing cause of abject poverty which millions of people endure and postulate it in her hypothesis as part of economic injustice of what is today called the New World order and its neoliberal outlook.

Since 1977 things have not changed. World renowned scholars such as Professor Jeffrey Sack of Columbia University Earth Institute, one of the architects of Millennium Development Fund, has expressed similar sentiments like that of Susan George and that is- for the first time in history, our generation has the opportunity to end extreme poverty in the world’s most desperate nations. But, the question is how can we stop the cycle of bad health, bad debt and bad luck that hold back more than a billion people?
The present global food crisis is making the people of our continent more and more to live on the edge.


All over sub-Saharan Africa, food insecurity has reached a humanitarian crisis situation. From Liberia and Mali in West Africa, all along the way to the horn of Africa, there are prevailing conditions of hunger and malnutrition.

The corporate control and domination of the science of bio-technology is nothing much more than capitalism and its pursuit in the hunt for profits. Capitalism isn’t the first economic system to exploit the natural resources of the planet. However, it is the first to do so on an industrial scale, using advanced technologies to maximise profit. This relentless drive to make money out of the world’s resources means there is no chance for the planet’s ecosystem to recover naturally. The corporate drive to using the laws of intellectual property rights to patent crops such as rice, maize, wheat and many other crops is to the disadvantage of small-scale farmers in Africa. Another dilemma of the technology is the issue of bio-safety. The International convention on biodiversity called for the preservation of protection of the world’s biological resources.

The debate about GM Foods is about the looming threat cross contamination. Another factor that undermined the development of Africa’s agricultural sector is the Common European Agricultural Policy and its subsidization regime. Using neo-liberal policies of trade liberalization, while dumping cheap European products into the African markets, our small scale producers continue to go into decline. Access to food, safe drinking water is a determinant of basic human rights. All over Africa, ill fated advice from international financial institution such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Paris Club and the adoption of their conditional neoliberal policies of trade liberalization not only mortgage our natural resources into the service of debt but also undermined the development of national agricultural policies toward a drive for food security on the continent, leading to more and more of our citizens vulnerable to the situation of hunger.

The present analysis from international development commentators are much more focus on the global economic crisis, neoconservative protectionism the global energy crisis and the rise in petroleum products, the use of bio fuel and the rise of new consumerism in China and India. Many usually sideline the economic injustices to our governments (neo-liberalism) by the most powerful economies. But for more than four decades after independence, not much efforts have been made by African governments toward the development of small scale farmers to food self sufficiency.

Agricultural extension programmes, research and development of farming systems all over the continent is geared toward mono cropping for foreign exchange earning than dynamics toward house-hold food security. Continuous cropping of land for groundnut, cotton, rubber, etc have make the fertile top soil more and more vulnerable to the erosion of the top soil, and with removal of agricultural subsidies due to the policies of the Breton wood institutions of IMF and World Bank – structural adjustment programmes, our citizens have been ‘forced’ to live on the edge, engulfed into poverty, hopelessness, despair, environmental degradation and dependency on cheap Asian and European food imports, the prices of which have recently skyrocketed beyond the means of average farming families. The food riots in many countries are early warning signs for many African democracies. A hungry man is an angry man. The continent is littered with failed states and the masses are not empowered, programmes and policies are not developed to translate into meaningful socio-economic development to enhance food self-sufficiency, capacity building, decentralisation, livelihood enterprise development to uplift the people from both low income status and food poverty.

Putting national accounting system into the crisis perspectives; budgetary allocations for research and development of many national agricultural development programmes are far too lower when compared to the amount of money allocated for the security of heads of state in many African countries. With human development crisis all over the continent, African tax-payer’s money continue to benefit the President and his or her household more than the human security of the rural dwellers. The fundamental question is: what is the way forward to combat the present food crisis on our continent? Mirroring the situation from both short and long term perspectives, requires both humanitarian and holistic development approaches. Many international aid agencies such as Oxfam, Action Aid, Concern, Save the Children, etc are appealing for more food aid to reach the poor and the most vulnerable in order to reduce the toll of hunger on the starving populace. Most of these humanitarian charitable organisations and even their development theory; operation and function of reaching the poorest of the poor are more effective than functioning governments of Africa within short fall development visions. In many instances, they are seen as threat to autocratic governments who are the cause of the prevailing condition of wretchedness.

Sustainable development of African farming to eradicate hunger and famine should take the form of human development. Putting into focus of the human development and capacity building, any means towards sustainability requires participatory approach. To reduce human suffering, more efforts should be taken to forecast the trend global financial markets and physical environment, such as the pattern of atmospheric changes – be it climate change, metrological/ hydrological pattern- drought and rainfall into the information and communication systems of agricultural extension programmes.

The availability of such information will minimise natural risk factors and thus enable our small-scale farmers to shift their style to early maturing crop varieties to enhance a degree of food security in an uncertain environment. African governments should also put into place mitigation factors such as regular household food surveys, especially in highly food insecure countries to give early warning signals to avert famine before the situation of hunger turns into calamity. It is through such surveys that the state of nutrition of infants and children, pregnant and lactating women can determine or put in place the most appropriate priority.

People centered development and grassroots empowerment as a development paradigm is the way forward to address despair and hopelessness on our continent. Many governments in our continent feared the political
empowerment/enlightenment of their citizens because it can be a catalyst for political changes. Participatory development is what will combat social exclusion and enhance economic empowerment. The low level of literacy among our farming population requires the diffusion of pedagogies on the ground solution to end poverty.