Monday, 26 March 2012

The real cause of famine

I've recently been studying a development studies paper, and what I have learned has shocked me.

I, like many people, believed the cause of famine to be a lack of food, of too many people in the world. This is not the case at all. There is more than enough food to go round in this world, and population growth is not an issue. In many cases, when there has been famine in a country, there has been enough food for the starving to eat - they just couldn't afford it.

So, famine could be avoided. Its just the inability of people to command and afford food that leads them to starvation. It is a lack of capital, a lack of money that kills them.

And while 850 million people starve, over 2 billion face obesity. Ironic much?

The causes of famine are complex and interlinked. Unlike the ads we see on TV, famine is not caused solely by a drought or a war. These factors are like the last straw on the camels back. Years and years of the following cause famine:

  • Colonialism, and takeover of land and traditional pastoral farming, leads to less food.
  • Colonialism and expansion of western style farms (which don't work on African soils.)
  • Colonialism and the African traditional ways (which have afforded them survival for all of human history) being seen as backwards and inferior
  • Western centric thinking, and seeing people in these countries as being unable to help themselves
  • Years and years of government debt, and with debt repayment meaning less money for public healthcare, education and food
  • Corrupt governments and companies (both in third and first world countries.)
Western governments have seen food aid as the solution, and have 'dealt' with famine this way. But the issues are as follows
  • Western food is very hard for people to cook and eat
  • Food aid is shipped from donor countries and takes months to arrive (too late).
  • Food aid can be diverted by a corrupt government
  • Food aid does not solve the underlying issue of ongoing famines.
  • Food aid undervalues the food that is grown in the country (its value goes down.)

Many NGOs now advocate for
  • Food vouchers or cash, to stimulate the local economy and farmers
  • Bottom up solutions using the knowledge and resources of the people who live there
  • Less western ideologies

It has sickened me to learn that our obsessive thinking that the western world is 'developed' and the 'best' has been such a big part in famine in Africa. Of course, we should have realised our ideologies and farming practices and so on would not work there, as their land type and geography is completely 'un-western.'

It sickens me that in a world of plenty, it is money and western dominance that keeps these countries locked in a cycle of famine.

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