Africa: Money Will Not End Famine
2 September 2009
There was a time in Africa when elders would “talk” to the drought and negotiate their way into receiving rainfall. With their unique understanding of causation, elders would either sacrifice a black sheep or ask a virgin girl to bathe in a lake in order to draw the attention of the rain gods.
Would that they could do so now.
With an estimated 50 million Africans in dire need of food aid and an additional 120 million facing starvation if immediate measures to alleviate the situation are not taken, the general assumption has become that developing countries do not have what funds are necessary to increase food productivity.
Too little time has been invested in seeking to understand why Africa, with its vast farmlands and its brilliant and innovative sons and daughters, still goes hungry as the rest of the world battles with obesity.
Computer experts are aware of malware, the “malicious software” that is designed to infiltrate a computer without the owners’ informed consent.
The general computer user is familiar with viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware among other programmes that cause harm to the operating system.
As we talk about famine in Africa, we should take a moment to evaluate the hostile and intrusive programmes operating in the background as food aid in particular and aid in general run in the foreground.
Ask yourself, for example, why a majority of Africans have changed their diets.
Kenyan nutritionists point out that we have ignored high value foods and replaced them with junk, sacrificing thousands of Africa’s domesticated and wild edible crops at the altar of modernity.
Crops whose production should be scaled up by virtue of their ability to adapt to Africa’s climate have instead been framed as crops of poverty.
Crops such as the tamarind, millet, sorghum, indigenous peanuts and potatoes have been kicked out of the menu in favour of wheat and beef.
Over 50 years of food aid targeted at Africa have been marked by a corresponding increase in episodes of famine, which points to the possible existence of a food “malware” – a malicious system that changes people’s dietary habits in favour of imported foods.
The same malware has penetrated agricultural schools, where it trains graduates to promote the new foods as opposed to upgrading local varieties.
Worst of all, it has penetrated political leadership, corrupting their minds with the quest for kickbacks to the extent that they do not invest in local solutions as foreign solutions can loaded with the possibility of a quick 10 per cent.
In the absence of an effective “anti-virus” this malware loads its intentions on the hapless operating systems of Africa’s nations, forcing them to become perpetual beggars.
It is my contention that, to reduce the incidence of famine on the continent, Africans must develop an effective system for detecting the “malicious background operating system” that has not only denied them the opportunity to promote their local cuisines but has also exposed their land to grabbing.
It is time we invested in our indigenous crops, turned our rural populations into celebrated food suppliers through incentives and invested in technology to free our continent from perennial famine.
Contrary to common belief, money is not the solution to Africa’s famine problem. Neither, for that matter, is food aid. What we need to do is get rid of the malware operating in our system.
James Shikwati is the director of Inter Region Economic Network
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Africa: Money Will Not End Famine