Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, being interviewed after speaking at the Anti-NATO rally held in Grant Park in downtown Chicago on May 20, 2012. Azikiwe spoke on the need for international solidarity. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Africa Food Security and the G8 Summit
L’Aquila forgotten amid new “initiatives” to address hunger on the continent
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Members of the Group of 8 capitalist industrialized states of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Russia held a summit meeting at Camp David in Maryland on May 18 and 19. The substance of the talks focused heavily on the crisis within the Eurozone which has been complicated by the economic collapse in Greece and worsening conditions in numerous European states.
There appeared to be differences of opinion between Germany and France over whether policy emphasis should be on the implementation of austerity or growth agendas. U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the meeting and said that he agreed with the new Socialist Party president of France, Francois Hollande, that a growth agenda should take priority although there needed to be cost cutting measures within the respective economies.
However, in the U.S. the growing crisis of the cities reveal that not only is the world’s leading capitalist economy not fully recovered but that serious contractions are taking place in the areas of public sector employment. Service cuts and pressure on employee benefits as well as pension funds indicate that austerity is the order of the day, albeit unofficially.
Inside the U.S. the Union of the Unemployed website placed the number of jobless workers at 31 million. (unionofunemployed.com) This figure is staggering in a highly industrialized state where unemployment insurance and social welfare programs are being slashed on a monthly basis.
As it relates to poverty, the official rate is 15.1 percent, approximately 45 million people. Poverty breeds hunger and it is estimated that 49 million people in the U.S. faced food deficits in 2010.
Among nationally oppressed groups, African Americans officially have a poverty rate nearly twice that of the overall average for the country, above 25 percent. Among children it is reported that over a third, 35.7 percent of Black children live in poverty.
According to Bread for the World Institute, “One in four African American households struggle to put food on the table, compared to about one in seven of all U.S. households. African American children experience hunger at higher rates than adults. Almost 35 percent of African American children live in families that struggle to put food on the table.” (Fact Sheet, Poverty and Hunger Among African Americans)
On a global level, the Hunger Project reports that out of a population of 6.8 billion, 925 million people do not have sufficient food for members of their households. Moreover, 98 percent of undernourished people live in the so-called developing countries, those states that are colonies or former colonies.
The Hunger Project also claims that over 66 percent of all people who are hungry live in seven countries: Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. (thp.org)
In Africa it is difficult to acquire accurate statistics on hunger. It is stated that around 270 million are facing food deficits. The problem of periodic drought in the Horn of Africa, the sub-continent and the Sahel usually translates into acute food deficits and sometimes famine.
The Promises of L’Aquila and the New Initiative From Camp David
With the announcement of the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security it is obvious that this is merely another public relations exercise on the part of the capitalist states. This project that was announced by Obama at Camp David is touted as a joint program between African nations, international donors and private firms.
In addition to the G8 heads-of-state, four African leaders were also present for what was reported as two-hours of talks on the announced project. President John Atta Mills of Ghana, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania and President Yai Boni of Benin, who is also the current chairperson of the African Union, met with Obama to discuss this partnership.
In a joint statement issued by President Kikwete of Tanzania, Ellen Kullman of DuPont Corporation and Dr. Rajiv Shah who is the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), they make the claim that Africa has experienced significant growth in the last five years with private investments in the areas of oil, natural gas and minerals. However, the statement notes that agricultural development for internal food consumption has not been a focus of interests for multi-national firms.
The trio says that “As a result of decades of underinvestment, today Africa is the only continent that does not produce enough to feed its own citizens. Last year’s food crisis and famine in the Horn of Africa serve as a stark reminder that chronic hunger and malnutrition remain a persistent problem on the continent.” (The Citizen, Tanzania, May 21)
Yet just three years ago at another meeting of the G8 in L’Aquila, Italy some $22 billion was pledged to address the same problem of food deficits in Africa. The Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI) was endorsed by 27 countries and 15 international organizations.
The program was supposed to be implemented by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Investment Center. At least two aid organizations, InterAction and Oxfam responded to the new initiative with much scepticism.
InterAction pointed out that the program may be another method for the industrialized states to avoid honoring their previous commitments by relying on the 40 private firms that will supposedly provide the investments. Oxfam said that the announced funds were a “nice complement at best, a deflection at worst.” (huffingtonpost.com, May 18)
Even Obama emphasized the need for the capitalist states to follow through on their pledges. He said “We must do what we say. No empty promises.” (huffingtonpost.com, May 18)
Although USAID representative Shah says that 58 percent of the money from the AFSI has been disbursed, he had to admit that much of the money is not being allocated as promised. “The grand promise of L’Aquila was, if you build a plan for agriculture, the donors will help them find the resources for it,” says Gregory Adams, the director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America. (New York Times, May 18)
However, Adams continued noting that “Now there are 30 plans of varying degrees of quality with shovel-ready projects donors could invest in today, but instead donors have put their money in other things.” Adding even more apprehension to the program, the New York Times pointed out that many of the companies contacted indicated they had been asked not to speak on the specifics of their tasks until after May 19.
The Failure of Capitalist Agricultural Methods
This ongoing problem of food deficits in both the developed capitalist states and the underdeveloped regions flows directly from the profit-driven production of food. As a result of the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in Africa, most agricultural commodities and mineral resources are produced for export rather than internal use and consumption.
Prices for exports are largely determined by the capitalist markets. When prices fall the overall economic conditions in the post-colonial and neo-colonial states are adversely impacted.
Even in the U.S., the prices and distribution of food is influenced by factors of the capitalist market. Larger food retailers are plagued with sporadic demand within oppressed communities due to the high levels of poverty and dependence upon inadequate governmental assistance.
What is needed is an agricultural and distribution system that is not based on profit but human need. Access to nutritious food must be viewed as a fundamental human right and not the product of income and social status.