1605 Africa’s Enduring Hunger and the EU’s Recurrent Food Aid Programs

The Western media image of Africa as a poverty stricken continent held hostage by hunger and incapable of feeding its population leaves one wondering whether living in Africa means a wedlock with death [1]. Every now and then, pictures of malnourished children, women, and men living in their shacks are flashed on the media as proof. The impression is always that Africa needs food aid from Europe and America or else her population will be wiped out by hunger. A follow up to this image is that various Food Aid and Food security programs, and the accompanying economic policies, are designed for Africa in an effort to save Africa from total annihilation by hunger. Save Africa – beautiful and laudable mantra! But the venture of addressing Africa’s food security has been enmeshed in a cloud of integrity questions. Is it really just about solidarity with a suffering continent?


Are the Food Aid and Food Security programs without shadow sides? Judging from what we have seen and experienced in Africa, we, at the AEFJN have great reservations about these programs. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) data of 2010-2012 [2] is very insightful! It estimates that there is a total of 868 million undernourished people in the world. It further estimates that 239 million or less than 27 percent of this figure live in Africa. Surprisingly, there are a whopping 568 million undernourished persons according to the same data in Asia. India alone accounts for 217 (slightly less than all Africa), while China, despite the remarkable reduction of hunger observed over the years, still had around 158 million undernourished. So, the image of Africa as the continent where most of the hungry on earth people live is not fact-based. That the Western[1] propaganda continued insistence on sticking the label of the most malnourished continent, in the light of the available facts, calls for a closer look by all who are genuinely interested in the true development of the African continent. 


A number of questions are begging for answers! What could be the driving force of such a propaganda? In the 1980s, Asia, led by China and Japan out rightly rejected the IMF and World Bank framework for development and the accompanying structural adjustment programs. They were viewed as repressive for creating a different policy template to that of the West, to deal with their economic and hunger challenges. But they had a vision matched with political will and they stuck to their guns. Today, they are the emergent economies. They are now praise-worthily referred to as the Asian Tigers. In fact, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a position that, among other things, depends largely on the economic strength of a country and how much it is able to donate to the UN. All that happened because the Asian countries had the courage to dare, to seek for local solutions to their local problems. They are no longer labeled most undernourished even when they statistically have the highest number of undernourished as a continent. They have shown that they can manage their problems themselves.  


On the contrary, the African national governments are yet to demonstrate the same tenacity and resilience in their response to the economic and hunger challenges of the continent. Thus the emergent picture of Africa as the continent that is threatened by undernourishment that must be helped on the terms of the West. The logic, therefore, is not so much about the statistics of the undernourished; it is about an economic agenda that is clothed in the fabrics of Food Aid and Security programs.


Indeed, a Food aid program is very helpful in times of emergencies, especially if there is a concomitant program to address the systemic issues underlying the hunger. However, this has been the missing link in the various Food Aid programs packaged for Africa which in the long run undermine the realization of food security on the continent. The prolonged food aid programs to some African countries have stalled local food production, increased unemployment, destroyed the local food cultures and systems; and have induced psychological malaise and a cycle of dependency which have kept Africa in survival mode, always in need. It is not out of place to state that the African national governments now invest minimally in agriculture with the hope that there will be food aid for them.


Perhaps, a more disturbing angle to the Food aid saga is that Africa has inadvertently become a tool for the exploitation of its resources. Otherwise, how does one explain the philosophy or logic of the EU choosing to spend more on food aid programs to Africa which keep the beneficiaries coming back rather than becoming strong enough to stand on their own? Is it to paint the picture that the EU is incapable of  developing infrastructures that will enable Africa address its hunger challenges, reduce unemployment, conflicts, migration, terrorism and other socio-economic problems of Africa in a more sustainable way?


Finally, it noteworthy that, prolonged food aid to Africa has created a gulf of power differentials in the relationship of the African leaders and their counterparts in the West. While Asian countries are now economic giants, the African countries have continued to be beggar nations; a rather paradoxical situation in the face of the many policy interventions from the EU and her allies. Obviously, there is a need to beam a searchlight at the shadow sides of the food aid programs that Africa gets in different guises. Both givers and receivers need to re-examine their roles!


Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp

Executive Secretary

[1] The term, Western, is applied here in its broad sense. It refers to the geographic West and the USA block.


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