This Thanksgiving, change aid policies to end hunger
November 15, 2006
At Thanksgiving time, we should remember the people around the world who don't have enough to eat.
Chronic hunger continues to strike some 852 million people, 206 million of whom are in Sub-Saharan Africa -- up nearly 40 million from 1990-1992. Some 300,000 children under the age of 5 face the risk of death from malnutrition every year in the Sahel alone -- a region of Africa that includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
An international commitment to eradicate hunger is urgently needed today.
Here is a strategy for tackling it.
First, rich nations should support local farmers in developing countries so they can provide for their own populations. Subsistence farmers -- who make up 75 percent of the world's poor -- should be at the center of development policies. These policies should promote consumption and production of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms rather than encouraging poor nations to specialize in cash crops for Western markets. Of all the countries that report child malnutrition, 78 percent of them are food-exporting nations, according to calculations based on U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization figures.
Second, the fight against hunger needs to shift away from hypocritical free-market ideology. Even though industrialized countries have protective barriers for their agriculture, the poorest farmers and consumers in the developing world have been deprived of such protection. State-run agencies in Niger and Malawi that helped assure decent prices for farmers and regulated prices for low-income consumers now no longer exist.
Third, the United States should stop looking at food aid as a way to subsidize U.S. agribusiness. U.S. food aid does little to strengthen national economies. Instead, it destroys markets and livelihoods of small farmers in recipient countries. In 2005, Andrew Natsios, former head of the USAID, tried to persuade Congress to spend a quarter of its food-aid budget on local purchases in Africa to feed Africa's hungry. But apparently unmoved by the plight of the hungry and the poor, Congress rejected this proposal last year and again this year.
Fourth, more, not less, aid for rural development is necessary. Policies that help affected countries develop their own agricultural sectors actually feed more people and decrease developing countries' dependence on aid programs in the long run. For instance, models such as agro-forestry projects in the Sahel have shown to yield lasting improvements in food security.
Foreign aid to Africa fell by 40 percent during the 1990s and now stands at approximately $12 billion per year. There is an urgent need for an unconditional "Marshall Plan for Africa," which would include 100 percent debt relief and a boost in Western assistance to Africa. Several preeminent figures -- such as Jacques Diouf, executive director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown -- have made appeals for such a program.
There is much that can be done on the part of the international community and governments to ensure the right of all human beings to live in dignity and free from hunger.
While we express gratitude for what we have this Thanksgiving, we also must take action to help solve the problem of world hunger.
Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute. Frederic Mousseau is a food security consultant with relief agencies, including Action Against Hunger and Doctors Without Borders. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.