1208 GMT November 19, 2019
The highest hunger levels are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) according to the Global Hunger Index 2016. The number of ‘undernourished’ or hungry people in Africa increased from about 182 million in the early 1990s to around 233 million in 2016 according to the FAO, while the global number declined from about a billion to approximately 795 million, according to IPS.
This is a cruel irony as many countries in Africa have the highest proportion of potential arable land. According to a 2012 FAO report, for African sub-regions except North Africa, between 21 percent and 37 percent of their land area face few climate, soil or terrain constraints to rain-fed crop production.
Observers typically blame higher population growth, natural calamities and conflicts for hunger on the continent. And since Africa was transformed from a net food exporter into a net food importer in the 1980s despite its vast agricultural potential, international food price hikes have also contributed to African hunger.
The international sovereign debt crises of the 1980s forced many African countries to the stabilization and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of the Bretton Woods institutions. Between 1980 and 2007, Africa’s total net food imports grew at an average of 3.4 percent per year in real terms. Imports of basic foodstuffs, especially cereals, have risen sharply.
One casualty of SAPs was public investment. African countries were told that they need not invest in agriculture as imports would be cheaper.
Tragically, while Africa deindustrialized thanks to the SAPs, food security also suffered.
In 1980, Africa’s agricultural investments were comparable to those in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC). But while LAC agricultural investment increased 2.6 fold between 1980 and 2007, it increased by much less in Africa. Meanwhile, agricultural investments in Asia went from three to eight times more than in Africa as African government investments in agricultural research remained paltry.
Thus, African agricultural productivity has not only suffered, but also African agriculture remains less resilient to climate change and extreme weather conditions. Africa is now comparable to Haiti where food agriculture was destroyed by subsidized food imports from the US and Europe, as admitted by President Clinton after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow cuts in public investment, thus paying for imports. But the ostensibly short-term pain of adjustment did not bring the anticipated long-term gains of growth and prosperity. Now, it is admitted that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, causing the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’ for Africa.
Thanks to such programs, even in different guises such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century. And despite the minerals-led growth boom for a dozen years (2002-2014) during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.
The World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa shows that the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.