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PROMISES ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR FOOD

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OAKLAND, Nov 13 2006 (IPS) - Persistent hunger in countries like Niger reflects the failure of the international community to understand the root causes of hunger, write Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, and Frederic Mousseau, a food security consultant who works with international humanitarian agencies. In this article, the authors argue that the delayed response in providing aid and the insistence of donor countries like the US on providing in-kind food aid do little to strengthen national economies and tackle hunger. The dumping of cheap subsidised food aid only benefits large agribusinesses while destroying markets and livelihoods of small farmers in recipient countries. Development policies that promote economic liberalisation and encourage specialisation, commercialisation of agriculture, and withdrawal of the state from regulating the market, are eroding ability of nations to feed their populations. Niger\’s experience shows that relying on the market to solve food shortages leaves the poorest people hungrier and drives small farmers into further poverty while large food traders gain monopoly power. The fight against hunger needs to shift away from the free-market ideology. No industrialised country has been capable of developing its agriculture without protective barriers, yet the poorest farmers and consumers in the developing world have been deprived of such protection. It is time to implement an unconditional and non-paternalistic \’\’Marshall Plan for Africa\’\’, including 100 percent debt relief and a boost in Western assistance.

It is time to take stock of these noble sounding goals.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the number of hungry people in the world is currently increasing at the rate of four million a year. Chronic hunger plagues some 852 million people, 206 million of who are in Sub-Saharan Africa, up nearly 40 million from 1990-92. Some 300,000 children under the age of five face the risk of death from malnutrition every year in Sahel alone, which includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

In 2005, widespread hunger and poverty in Niger hit the world news. The food crisis was blamed on locust invasions and drought. However, it was not an isolated episode in Niger’s history. Hundreds of thousands of children require nutritional assistance every year in this country where the under-five mortality rate is the second highest in the world. Doctors Without Borders treated some 60,000 malnourished Nigerian children in their emergency programme this year.

Persistent hunger in countries like Niger reflects the failure of the international community to understand the root causes of hunger. The delayed response in providing aid and the insistence of donor countries like the US on providing in-kind food aid do little to strengthen national economies and tackle hunger. The dumping of cheap subsidised food aid only benefits large agribusinesses while destroying markets and livelihoods of small farmers in recipient countries. The ensuing poverty generates further hunger in countries like Niger where nearly 63 percent of the population already survives on less than a dollar a day.

A new study by the Oakland Institute, Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? shows that development policies that promote economic liberalisation and encourage specialisation, commercialisation of agriculture, and withdrawal of the state from regulating the market, are eroding the ability of nations to feed their populations. Niger’s experience shows that relying on the market to solve food shortages leaves the poorest people hungrier and drives small farmers into further poverty while large food traders gain monopoly power.

An international commitment to eradicate hunger would require several policy changes, which would include the following:

First, subsistence farmers, who constitute 75 percent of the world’s poor, should be at the centre of development policies. These policies should support national governments in promoting consumption and production of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms rather than encouraging the poor nations to specialise in cash crops for western markets. Seventy-eight percent of countries that report child malnutrition are food-exporting countries.

Second, the fight against hunger needs to shift away from the free- market ideology that has been driving development policies for the past three decades. No industrialised country has been capable of developing its agriculture without protective barriers, yet the poorest farmers and consumers in the developing world have been deprived of such protection.

Third, more, not less, aid for rural development is necessary. Policies that help affected countries develop their own agricultural sectors actually feed more people and decrease developing countries’ dependence on aid programmes in the long run. For instance, alternative agricultural development models such as agro-forestry projects in the Sahel have shown to yield lasting improvements in food security.

Foreign aid to Africa fell by 40 percent during the 1990s and now stands at approximately USD12 billion per annum. USD70 billion were collected by the coalition combatants in a matter of weeks to fight the war in Iraq. The US has spent over USD360 billion so far in Iraq. Niger’s annual budget is a mere USD320 million. It will take more than false promises of rich nations to ensure the right of all human beings to live in dignity and free from hunger. It is time to implement an unconditional and non-paternalistic ”Marshall Plan for Africa”, including 100 percent debt relief and a boost in Western assistance. A country like Niger would be an ideal first recipient of funding from such a plan. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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