Hunger negatively affects people’s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well-being. A lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development and contribute to mental retardation.
In the wake of the threat of mass deaths from starvation, courtesy of the perennial famine ravaging the Horn of Africa, fingers are already being pointed at the usual scapegoats and whipping boys in what has become a perpetual struggle against hunger in this region.
However, it behoves those of us engaged in the blame game to actually have our facts straight in regard to the issue of food crises around the world; otherwise we do disservice to those staring down their very own graves, with perched throats and grumbling tummies, while we sit on our rockers engaged in circular arguments based on half-truths.
I’m also aware that few people have the time to ready lengthy tomes on any subject, which is why I intend to try and condense the facts about hunger into as short a log as possible.
It needs to be understood that hunger is not simply the fact of being hungry and needing to eat something, it is a continued deprivation in a person of the food needed to support a healthy life, basically a family subsisting on a diet of ugali and sukumawiki for weeks on end is suffering hunger.
WHO ARE MOST AFFECTED BY HUNGER:
Children, rural folk, and those inhabiting slums suffer the most from hunger; which is probably why Dr. Mutua doesn’t know of anyone that has died from hunger since, by being an adult ensconced in a gated community in some leafy suburb, he hardly inhabits the realms of the three groups.
HOW GRAVE IS THE HUNGER PROBLEM:
Close to a billion people are affected by hunger. To quote a British NGO: “Each year, 15 million children die of hunger-related causes. This means that, every day, throughout the world, 40 000 children die. The loss of human life is as great as if an atomic bomb – similar to the one that destroyed Hiroshima during the Second World War – were to be dropped on a densely populated area every three days.”
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CAUSES OF HUNGER?
There are many varied reasons why hunger as a problem persists, we have natural causes such as drought, pests, natural disasters; and man-made reasons e.g wars, over exploitation of natural, etc. Interestingly the most frequent cause of hunger is grounded in economic and political factors that dictate how production and distribution of food is done around the world.
You see the truth is we have enough food for everyone in the world, that is if all the food grown in the world was divided in equal portions, then there’d be plenty for all of us, and we’d have a surplus; in deed we currently produce 10% more food than we need to ensure no one goes hungry.
It thus follows that hunger is not only about quantity of food at our disposal, but is affected by the means of distribution available, and trade imbalances that negatively affect 3rd world countries; the capitalist global system ensures that foods are sold to the richer countries that have profits from trading in other commodities and services, and then on to the people who hold the most wealth.
The question of high population density doesn’t even feature since most of the actual countries with high population densities are rich and thus can afford to import food from poorer countries, and as a result are not affected by hunger.
WHAT, THEN, REALLY CAUSES HUNGER?
•Not prioritizing agriculture is one: Many governments would rather invest in infrastructure and in buying weapons than in irrigation or provision of seeds and fertilizers with grave consequences.
•Land scarcity and lack of equity in ownership: I need not mention the robber barons and crime families that have grabbed incredibly large swathes of land that now lies fallow across the country.
•Low farm prices: This is the reason farmers opt to plant cash crops instead of food crops, of course cash crops are not edible unprocessed.
•International trade imbalances: Poor countries export unprocessed foods to rich countries for a song and buy back machinery, farm inputs and the same foods, now packaged, at exorbitant prices.
•Skewed distribution: Hunger is suffered in areas that have little access in terms of infrastructure; this extends to poorer countries that cannot compete with the logistical capabilities of richer countries.
•Bad agricultural practices: This include the continuous sub-division of land into ever shrinking sizes reducing productivity, as a consequence forests are cleared to create room for more land and over-exposed lands are given to soil erosion and loss of fertility.
•Conflict: It is instructive and self-explanatory that war-torn Somalia is most affected by the current crisis in the horn of Africa.
Unless the real causes of hunger are addressed, we shouldn’t be in a hurry to put away our begging bowls; this will definitely not be the last time human beings will die needlessly by starvation in a world with a food surplus.