By Francis Kokutse, in Accra, Ghana
Francis Kokutse is a journalist based in Accra and writes for Associated Press (AP), University World News, as well as Science and Development.Net. He was a Staff Writer of African Concord and Africa Economic Digest in London, UK.
The Somalis say that “he who does not seize opportunity today, will be unable to seize tomorrow’s opportunity.” This saying fits the African situation. After independence, it looks like the leaders, together with the citizens, forgot that food was important, and went to sleep. Why this happened cannot be explained because there is also a Kenyan saying that “one whose seeds have not sprouted does not give up planting.” We gave up planting soon after independence and that is why we have become a hungry continent that has malnourished children walking its streets!
For this reason, there are many questions that demand answers from African leaders. One of such is what went wrong with the continent’s food production that has brought it to its knees, and resulted in it begging for crumbs? Indeed, it is very sad to accept that, even after a 2017 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) document commented that the continent “is far from exploiting its true agricultural potential,” this did not jolt our leaders into action. Is Africa cursed?
The FAO said the continent has 60 percent of non-cultivated lands worldwide, adding that, “worldwide, demand for agricultural products is supposed to double when the global population reaches 9.1 billion, by 2050. Africa is thus well positioned to become a strategic continent in the global agro-food industry, as it has close to 60% of non-cultivated lands in the world.”
Against this background, is it that African leaders are deaf to all that is being said about why the continent must increase initiatives to boost agricultural production? Or, perhaps, they cannot read the documents that are suggesting that food production must increase to save the people from starvation.
It beggars belief that, long after the late US human rights campaigner, Martin Luther King said in March 1957, that in Africa, every five people are undernourished and do not have three meals for their bodies, the expectation that the continent’s leaders would take on the trouble to tackle food security is not being met. But no, it’s not for them; perhaps, because there is always donor support! The U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield, has pointed out that the continuing food insecurity in Africa means, “children not getting the nutrition they need to succeed at school. And in the worst cases, it means famine. And famine means death.”
Should we wait for outsiders to come to remind us of how to feed our people? Our leaders will not accept that missing this very simple need for their citizens, means they have failed the people. Does it make sense therefore that they continue to whiz around our cities with long convoys to show they are in charge?
Against the backdrop of the inaction on the part of our leaders, climate change has come to compound Africa’s problems. Currently, the continent is facing shorter growing seasons, and this is leading to smaller yields. It has also been the cause of animals dying and poor fishing in our waters. But who is to be blamed? These things didn’t just happen, they have been with us for a while. And did we take notice or action? No!
So, African leaders and the African Union have been idling, though we have problems to solve; only for Ambassador Greenfield to tell us during her three nation African tour that, “the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought on historical record. The World Food Programme estimates that up to 20 million people may risk going hungry in that region.”
She said, “Somalia is on the brink of famine – tens of thousands of people are desperately travelling across the barren wilderness looking for food. More than 700,000 camels, goats, sheep, cattle died in just the first two months of this year from drought-related causes.”
Ambassador Greenfield must have been indicting African leaders when she said, despite all the technological advancements that the world has witnessed over the past 60 years, it is sad that agricultural productivity growth in Africa has gone down – it has gone down over the past 30 years by more than a third because of climate change. This is because our leaders refused to act. They did not provide the leadership that was required, and their lackeys just went to sleep or warmed the chairs in the offices that they occupied.
It is a shame that, instead of taking the trouble to fight the problem at hand, all that our leaders are saying is to point accusing fingers at COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war. The continent didn’t suffer like other continents with the pandemic and so, it does not make sense to say that it is the cause of the food crisis that we are facing.
The reason the leadership of the African Union cannot escape blame is the fact that like the United Nations, which was set up to bring about peace around the globe, not much has been achieved in building peace on the African continent. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic have seen some of the worst conflicts on the continent, and our leaders attend summits without finding a solution to these conflicts.
When you take a look at the horn of Africa, Northern Ethiopia presents a gloomy picture, as Ambassador Greenfield said, the conflict has “driven innocent civilians to the brink of starvation.” Why should we be facing these problems?
For all these reasons, those who help feed Africa are always with the whip, to force our leaders to toe the line. The Russia-Ukraine war, for instance, has been used as the excuse for the hunger in Africa. The African leaders themselves have echoed this excuse to blame the war for high fertiliser costs to African farmers. But, the question is, why have African countries not developed their own fertiliser plants all the years since their independence.
That is why, America will want African leaders to support them against Russia. Though Ambassador Greenfield told her audience in Accra, “None of us want to repeat the Cold War. And Africans have the right to decide their foreign policy positions, free of pressure and manipulation, free of threats. But let me be clear: I’m not here to tell you or any Africans what to think,” behind the scenes, like a parliamentary whip, our leaders are being pushed to make a decision that is not of their own.
It is for this reason that, Ambassador Greenfield said, “since Russia’s unprovoked war, full-scale invasion into Ukraine,” the number of people facing food insecurity could rise to 230 million. For her, the world is suffering because “Russia has systematically captured some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland. They have spoiled fields with mines and bombs, they have stolen and destroyed vital agricultural equipment and infrastructure. They have even bombed grain silos and are selling grain that we believe was stolen from Ukraine’s stockpiles.”
Why should Africa suffer food insecurity because in the words of Ambassador Greenfield, “Russia and Ukraine provide over 40 percent of Africa’s wheat supplies. Therefore, Russia’s blockage of the Black Sea kept over 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain from global markets and threatened food security across the Middle East and Africa.”
What we have been doing is making plans that never get into action with food production. We have failed to pay heed to the Ovambo proverb that, “supposing doesn’t fill the grain basket, ‘if’ doesn’t fill the larder.”
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