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The Forum > Article Comments > The fight to feed Africa > Comments

The fight to feed Africa : Comments

By Robert Paarlberg, published 18/6/2008

How liberal charities are keeping millions hungry

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Robert Paarlberg says “On a per capita basis, Africa’s farms today are producing 19 per cent less than they did in 1970.”

If that is the case, farm productivity is a cause for congratulation. The African population at 1970 was about 400 million. It is now about 970 million: the capita has increased 240 per cent since 1970. Ten times the per capita productivity decrease. Just how heavily is it possible to footprint a landscape?

Unless disease, warfare, or famine intervene the capita is expected to double in 30 years – the duration of about a normal human generation.

Of course fossil-fuel dependent fertilizer would help them – pity about the present decline of cheap oil from which it is derived. As it is, ammonia fertilizer in underdeveloped Africa costs a hell of a lot more to the farmer there than it does in the grain belts of the developed countries – perhaps contributing to “Africa’s low use of chemical fertilizers”?

GM crops? Perhaps they could be useful. Cassava (tapioca), introduced from South America, has been – it will grow where other crops fail; and has enabled continued habitation on soils depleted of nutrients by increased human stocking-rates. A pity about its Potassium Cyanide content and the serious illness associated with it – but the choice is often death by starvation. As Howard Bradbury, a worldwide expert on cyanide content in Cassava, said - in parts of Africa where cassava can account for as much as 80 per cent of the daily diet, cyanide poisoning periodically reaches epidemic proportions.

Meanwile, as the author and the Western donors he berates mill around clucking and pointing at each other, the disenfranchised women in the African continent just might like to have access to the right and the ability to limit their own fertility
Posted by colinsett, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 2:50:00 PM
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Dear Prof,
This maybe your opinion and you’re entitled to hold it but it in no way accurately considers most of the factors that plague Sub Saharan Africa. I would respectfully suggest you are just pushing the "life sciences” (sic) Corporations (e.g. ADM) barrows.
- I think you’ll find much of the distribution problems stem from these corporations’ obscene profiteering conditions.
- Corporations are about profit and control food is merely the vector.
- These corporations have considerable political clout when it comes to governments (i.e. USA) funding potentially an opposition development structure.
-Consider the conditions GM seed Corps place on their products. i.e. the Indian experience.
- Then there’s the poverty of the base to consider. Subsistence farmers traditionally save some seed for next year (reducing cost) once in the GM market place these poor farmers are compelled to buy new seed every year. Prescribed ancillary products are an unwelcome cost i.e. Roundup (one of their products).
There are experiences reported by some third world farmers who have embraced GM have found that most of the benefits are devoured by the GM corporations. “Production up 20% in a good year but costs up 15% in all years” was one quote I read. To most poor farmers it isn’t a business so much as survival where those sorts of increases in cost are untenable. They don’t have our banking structures etc to rely upon. It is often a matter of life or death.
- National(institutionalized) corruption bedevil even stable countries.
- Droughts and changing conditions.
- Limited fundrs and Other more immediate needs.
- Neither the USA or EU are by definition a free trade environment as they are in a political battle of subsidies etc. The list could go on. To me there is no real point in such myopic analysis. The issue is far more complex than you paint.
Posted by examinator, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 4:02:54 PM
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Some of what I want to say about the Professor's article has already been said: viz. his oversimplified arguments in regard to the very complex area of free trade, and his failure to acknowledge the complicity of major economic powers (read USA primarily) in keeping Africa poor through their denial of markets to African farmers; then there is the matter of hybrid seeds - as Examinator points out, poor farmers have to save seeds from season to season in order to ensure sustainability of their crops and food on the table and in tummies; then there is the issue organic manure which he just tosses away in such a casual manner - learning to make and use organic fertiliser is transforming rice and domestic vegetable production for very poor families in Java, Lao PDR and in Burma; then there is the matter of chemical fertilisers - quite apart from the reliance of many of them on fossil fuels (as Examinator points out), and their cost, there is also how they are used and abused in Africa and elsewhere. When I worked for some years in Africa, I saw the results of farmers using chemical fertilisers and insecticide son their coffee and other crops, and developing terrible diseases, from which they died agonising deaths. The companies who sold these products had no interest at all in training people in how to use them, in warning them of the risks of exposures, or off providing them or advising about safety wear.

Professor P's article is academic - I wonder if he has ever worked alongside farmers whose traditional spiritual beliefs do not allow them to make dramatic changes to the way they 'do' rice cropping. Do you force them to change? Or, do you work with them, patiently, using your agricultural 'expertise' to find ways of improving outputs and yields that fit with the local context, that respect local beliefs, and that do not turn the poor off their land and onto the hungry streets of Asia and Africa
Posted by Bluehat, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 6:00:04 PM
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There are many reasons for the chaos and poverty in Africa.
Much (perhaps all) of it being the legacy of colonialism and of course the corrupt post-colonial leaders (who in many ways are direct products of colonialism too)

But then again colonialism is as strong as ever with almost all of the wealth and resources being exported to the west via the corporations that now rule the world.

See When Corporations Ruled The World by David Korten.

I would say that the attempt to impose GMO "foods" on to the people of Africa is an exercise in applied colonialism whereby the destiny of the African people will be controlled by the corporations that are promoting the GMO "solution" to hunger and poverty.

Such wonderful human friendly corporations like Monsanto as described in the Vanity Fair article Monsanto Harvest of Fear.

Would you entrust your future to such an obnoxious deceiptful corporation?
Posted by Ho Hum, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 6:35:59 PM
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What a most peculiar article. It sounded like a plug for GM crops.

Personally, I'm still in two minds about GM crops. Overwhelmingly because of the monopoly surrounding the whole issue.

But let's say, for argument sake, that GM crops are the best thing since sliced bread and the fertilizer and herbicides that go with this kind of farming is just the very best thing in efficient farming. Leave aside for a moment that most of efficient highly productive farming that happens in Western countries is NOT with GM crops.

So, we are going to shut up all those touchy feely romantics and go all out and get those Africans to do it properly and convince them to buy GM to plant a crop. How are they going to pay for that first crop? Then each subsequent crop? How are they going to pay for the right fertilizer?

What? With donor money from the West? How much did Mosanto pay you for this great idea?
Posted by yvonne, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 9:03:42 PM
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Ho Hum again can't help himself/herself in blaming those evil white colonizers. NO doubt he was a fan of Mr Fraser who helped put Mugabe in power. I noticed their is no mention of the hopelessly corrupt black African Governments in this article.

The end of arpartied in SA gave many warm and fuzzies but is proving an absolute diaster with the current tribal Government as corrupt as they come. The United Nations has again proven to be all about spin with no power to do anything useful except to denegrate the whites in SA.
Posted by runner, Thursday, 19 June 2008 12:00:15 PM
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