Well, I made it to Day 7. A part of me is celebrating for completing 30% of this World Hunger Souljourn, and another part of me is kind of depressed, because I have two more weeks to go.
Today is the last day I’ll spend on Africa. Being acutely aware that my focus has been solely on Ethiopia, it seems unfair to all the other people in all those other African countries who are living with hunger. But because I have an amazing resource, Dr. Roba of International Fund for Africa (IFA), I wanted to maximize on his knowledge bank and share his wisdom with you. The information I’m presenting today is an updated version of an interview with Dr. Roba from 2010.
Tomorrow is going to be an easy day. No intensive research, just me, talking from the heart. Stay tuned.
What are the causes of hunger in Africa?
- Wars within Africa and wars imposed on them by external powers
- Unfair national and international agricultural policies
- Social inequalities – in the same village, you can have both wealthy and very poor
- Lack of justice – those living in poverty who don’t have the resources to fight the system
- Unfair polices of the UN’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank with their structural adjustment policies that decimated a lot of African countries
- International commodity speculation on food that drives food prices up and down on Wall Street and hurts African farmers
- Corporate control of food
- Unequal distribution of foods: During the Ethiopian famine 20-30 years ago, the government at that time had food in their warehouses that were never distributed to those who needed it even though people were starving.
- Intensive food production including factory farming
Please tell me more about specific unfair national or international policies being imposed upon Africa.
Dr. Roba: There is a contradiction of policy behaviors that duplicate the problem. This is result of the US and EU doing two things:
- They subsidize their farmers and keep tariffs high
- Through organizations they control International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, they force African countries to reduce their tariffs and force governments not to subsidize their farmers.
The two main bodies that have caused harm to Africa are the World Bank and the IMF. US and EU agricultural policies affect Africa. With the World Bank and IMF, the real problem is with a particular privatizing plan called structural adjustment. Free trade is not free. The Europeans and Americans have subsidized their farmers and through World Bank and IMF force African countries to not subsidize their farmers. They force African countries to reduce import tariffs while other countries maintain high tariffs.
The IMF encourages African farmers to switch from growing food for domestic markets to growing cash crops for export. So traditional African crops like sorghum and cassava, yam and millet are staples these people have relied on for centuries and removing these foods contributes to hunger. If they had these foods, they wouldn’t go hungry, but the World Bank and IMF forces these African countries to switch to cash crops like coffee, tea and cotton for exports. They sell these commodity products for low prices and use that money to buy cheap food imports from the US and European countries.
One specific example is teff, a traditional staple in Ethiopia. It’s a flour used to make the bread that most Ethiopians eat. It originates from Ethiopia and is the traditional way of making food in Ethiopia. It’s been around for thousands of years. A company from the Netherlands patented a method of processing teff flour, because teff after it is processed becomes gluten-free and many people worldwide who are dealing with Celiac Disease need gluten-free flour. The Ethiopian process itself is what takes the gluten out of the flour. This Netherlands company can make money on this process even though it’s originally an Ethiopian product and process. Now this company has the infrastructure set up to deal with the intellectual property issues while Ethiopia doesn’t have that structure. Ethiopian farmers are being screwed out of the profits and are locked out of this process.
Another example is agribusiness. Corporations like Monsanto are selling GM (genetically modified) seed. They take a seed that is indigenous to Africa and patent it by altering it genetically and then sell it back to the farmers. Not only are farmers unable to use the original unaltered seed, they are expected to buy the new modified seed at 3-4 times the normal cost. Farmers cannot compete.
Please describe what’s happening with intensive food production in Africa.
Dr. Roba: There are many types of Intensive Food Production in Africa:
- Factory Farming
- Mono-crop production
- Use of GM seeds and animals
- Agribusinesses companies like Monsanto are coming into Africa. EU countries have refused it, but now they’re coming into Africa pushing it.
- Use of chemical pesticides and petro-fertilizers
This is under the premise that it [intensive food production] will help Africans feed themselves, yet the intent of intensive food production offers no benefits to Africans and is more likely to increase the problem.
Describe, in more detail, issues with factory farming in Africa.
Dr. Roba: Besides factory farming being unethical and a problem that will grow if we don’t take care of it now, there are multiple issues regarding factory farming. These include but are not limited to:
- Water Shortages
The process of factory farming necessitates large amounts of water and causes water shortages. It’s presumed the next wars will be fought over water. When I left my country many years ago, it was lush and fertile. When I returned, I would have to go to miles down south to see fertile land. The Sahara is progressing about ten miles a year and it’s going to be an issue in another 20-40 years in which Ethiopia will be short of water.
When you alter the ecosystem, it cannot sustain biodiversity. Biodiversity changes and dies. Factory farming alters the ecosystem completely which leads to loss of biodiversity. My grandfather used to tell me when he was growing up that 50-60 kilometers outside of the capital city, you can hear lions and see giraffes. Now you have to go 800 kilometers to see any animal. They are basically disappearing.
- Social Strife
When factory farming comes into a country in Africa, the intensive animal agriculture farming process displaces small and medium-sized farms. These farmers are forced to migrate to cities where they become unemployed, hungry, criminals and problems for the government.
Factory farmed animals are pumped with chemicals such as growth hormones and this creates a situation in which the health of the animal is in question but also the health of the ecosystem supporting that animal is in question. To maintain and expand factory farming, these farms have to grow or get high quality grains. Developing African countries will have to import grains to feed these animals. Imagine a country living in hunger trying to import grains for animals while their people are dying of hunger. Part of the lack of sustainability is due to the decreased efficiency of factory farming; less food is produced per acre and it reduces jobs.
- Land Leasing
This is a recent phenomenon as of the last ten years or so. Basically some call it ‘land grab’ and some call it ‘neo-colonialism’. But this time it’s not the British, it’s not the Dutch, it’s not the traditional colonial powers; it’s companies from the Middle East and Asia who are buying huge plots of land to produce very few crops that they then ship back to their countries. Imagine Africans who are hungry seeing food produced on their land being shipped out of their country. They get nothing. The claim is that the host nation benefits from this because their farming is upgraded from subsistence farming to commercial farming. The governments that are leasing the lands promise to pay the host government good money and promise to improve the infrastructure.Critics point out that actually none of the promises made to the host nation come to fruition, and many problems arise as a result of the land grabs. These problems include:
- Local farmers are excluded and end up relocating to the cities (called vertical integration) and become social misfits.
- The governments are not paid what the land is worth, and they basically give the land and what is produced without tax or with minimal tax.
- The foreign countries or companies don’t carry out their promises on building the infrastructure.
- The foreign countries or companies use large quantities of pesticides damaging the long-term sustainability of soils and negatively impacting biodiversity.
Given all the problems with factory farming, how is it that Ethiopia allows for it?
Dr. Roba: The government is open to various kinds of farming. They don’t have any particular bias; they just want Ethiopia to get out of its current status of poverty and hunger. Factory farming is being sold as a way out of this issue. If the government is shown in the long-term that it hurts the economy and the ecosystem, they will likely not be a proponent of it. At this point, the information available to them is that factory farming is a way out of hunger and poverty thus their policies reflect that way of thinking. Factory farming has been sold as the silver bullet and only recently are we seeing the negative effects of it.
What actions are being taken by IFA to combat factory farming?
Dr. Roba: We are always working to encourage others to move away from thinking that animal based foods are the way to go and to instead encourage plant-based farming while helping people get involved in businesses that are eco-friendly. It will take time. Factory farming is still a young industry, so we have an opportunity to stop it before it takes off.
In the past, IFA along with the local NGO’s worked to teach people in rural parts of the country about the environmental consequences of meat and dairy production and consumption and the benefits of plant-based farming.
Years ago, there was a town hall meeting in a small village in Ethiopia. We were talking with rural people about a plant-based diet, global warming and how overgrazing is causing problems in the environment. These villagers, some not even wearing shoes, were very interested and curious. Given how they are experiencing first-hand the impact of global climate change, they got it. At the time, I lived in Houston where so many didn’t believe in global warming, and here was a group of villagers in Ethiopia who understood.
IFA believes that African solutions reside within Africa. African farmers have a wealth of expertise, but they need help; help that is sustainable and that respects the ecosystems within their boundaries.
In collaboration with donors and civil societies, African farmers can produce foods that are ecologically sustainable.
Dr. Roba shared some examples of what can help African farmers:
- Encourage domestic, organic, plant-based farming.
- Discourage stocking of herd.
- Implement large ecosystem restoration projects.
- Reassess policies and practices that lead to land degradation, desertification and deforestation.
- Launch educational programs to raise awareness among Africans of the effects of climate change on the continent. It has to be done on a governmental level and on civil society levels. We must help discourage big countries like the United States from participating in a way that takes us in the wrong direction of industrialization.
- Avoid policies that promote exportation of food produced on the continent or further industrialization of food production.
- Ban the import of GMO’s.
- Create just and democratic systems that protect the African people from unjust national and international laws.
- We all must get involved in trying to change the politico-economic paradigm that puts profit over people, over animals, and over the planet.
If you would like to learn more about some of the farming and land issues facing Ethiopia and other developing countries, check out the following resources:
- Brighter Green has a short, interesting, articulate and well-made video focusing on Ethiopia and its multi-faceted and challenging relationship with livestock in the context of food security, climate change, development deficits, and ecological stress.
- If you would like to learn more about corporate and foreign government land grabs in poor countries, check out this link and accompanying video from Democracy Now!
If folks here in the US could help IFA, what kind of help would be of greatest value?
Dr. Roba: There are many ways people in the US can help IFA.
1) Financial support in the form of donations would be very helpful of course.
2) In-kind contributions would be another way. For example, we need a van outfitted to be a vet mobile clinic, which is much-needed for our work to help homeless dogs in Addis Ababa. If we could inspire someone or some company to donate a van, it would be extremely helpful, or finding people or organizations, companies, that can provide us with medical equipment for both humans and for dogs and cats would be very helpful.
3) People who are experts in areas we are involved in can help us by providing technical support such as veterinarians that can help us treat sick homeless dogs or can do spay and neuter procedures would be great, another example would be experts in conserving water or finding sources of water in arid areas could be very helpful, or doctors that are willing to go on medical mission trips, especially doctors that can do cataract surgery, for example, would be a huge help.
4) Getting volunteers here in the US to help spread the word via social media and helping us
organize events, writing grants or proposals for funding organizations or just helping with daily paperwork would be another way people can help us.
Many thanks to Dr. Roba and IFA for all you do to help make the world a better place.
My Food Justice Diet Experience: Day 7
Today was similar to yesterday except I had a small bowl (about 1/2 cup) of barley instead of rice around lunch as I was working and in dire need of an energy boost. I added a small dollop of coconut milk and cinnamon and ate it very slowly appreciating each tasty morsel. After work I had a beer. Note to self: Beer is not a good idea while on the Food Justice Diet.
Dinner was reheated African Style
Black-Eyed Peas Red Beans with Cinnamon and Cumin and Barley – leftovers from yesterday. I added chili pepper, salt, and garlic powder with a smidgen of water.
Day 7 Food Intake
Weight 115 (same as yesterday)
If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature but by our institutions,
great is our sin.
To read other posts in this series, click click click the links. Please share your comments!
Day 1: The Food Justice Diet
Day 2: Alarming and Curious Statistics
Day 3: Finish Your Plate, There are Children Starving in Ethiopia
Day 4: The Nameless Hungry
Days 5-6: “Where Does She Get Her Protein??”
Day 7: One Small NGO Making a Big Impact in Ethiopia
Day 8: The Language of Hunger
Day 9: Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America
Days 10-11: Can Small-scale farming feed the world?
Day 12: Why Organic Farming?
Days 13-14: The Have and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia
Day 15: Have You Eaten Today?
Day 16: Hunger in America
Days 17 & 18: Hunger’s Dirty Little Secret
Day 19: Eat Plants
Day 20: Watch This, Read That
Day 21: The Power of Activism