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Promises Are No Substitute for Food

November 13, 2006
IPS - Inter Press Service

By Anuradha Mittal

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.