Drought / East Africa / Food Security / Kenya

The bigger picture: We can no longer afford random acts of (unconnected) aid

Roger Thurow, US journalist and  senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, describes the paradox of great harvest and great hunger existing at the same time in Kenya, a country he often visits and reports on.

‘It is less than two hundred miles from the village of Kabuchai, where Sanet Biketi began his maize harvest last week, to the village of Kipnai, where hunger reigns. Yet there was none of the surplus production of Kabuchai’s farmers on offer at an emergency food distribution in Kipnai this week. Instead, the food came from farms far more distant. . . .

‘The contrasting scenes in Kabuchai and Kipnai provide a classic illustration of the bizarre economics of feast and famine in Africa. It is the continent’s great paradox, where shortage and surplus can exist side by side.

‘The only silver lining of the hunger spreading through the Horn of Africa would be if the poor smallholder farmers of Kenya, who battle hunger themselves before their harvests come in, could reap higher prices for their surplus maize spurred by the tremendous demand for food. It is what the normal economics of supply and demand would dictate. But the market, which should direct the food from the surplus areas to the shortage areas, doesn’t function normally here. Horrible infrastructure—namely wretched farm to market roads—disturbs the distribution, and the influx of free food aid and government imports distorts the supply side of the equation.

It all presents more evidence of the need to invest in long-term agriculture development in Africa, so more and better food can be produced, while also spending on emergency feeding. And it offers another example of how food aid can be reformed to do as the residents of Kabuchai suggest: first buy local food that is available, which will provide incentive for farmers to keep growing more, and then bring in food aid if the local supply isn’t enough.

‘A glimpse of how this would work was on display at the Kipnai food distribution. . . .’

Read the whole article, Harvest and hunger: Part 3: From surplus to shortage, 12 Aug 2011, in the ‘Outrage and Inspire’ weekly column written by Roger Thurow, editor of the ‘Global Food for Thought’ blog of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and housed within The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Read Thurow’s earlier pieces in this series here: Part 2 and Part 1.

And read an interview with Laurie Garnett, on How a faltering dollar starves food aid. Garnett is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning science journalist who published a best-selling book in 1995 called The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance and who is now senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank in the US.

‘Garrett calls the current situation—with the troubled dollar, the beleaguered global economy, and a diminishing number of donors at time of rising food prices—a “perfect storm.”. . .

‘If you look now at the Horn of Africa, we literally can feed fewer people in the Horn of Africa in this massive famine, which could well break records in its scale, than we could even a few months ago, much less [a few] years ago. . . . If you look now at the Horn of Africa, we literally can feed fewer people in the Horn of Africa in this massive famine, which could well break records in its scale, than we could even a few months ago, much less [a few] years ago. . . . So we’ve not succeeded in breaking through any of the trade issues that have fundamentally stymied any attempts to control pricing and increase supply.

‘On top of it all, we just have a lot more hungry people and very stressed climates in a lot of areas. If you look at projections made by Oxfam, the British humanitarian organization, they are looking out all the way to 2050 . . . on the combination of population pressure, water scarcity, and climate change. And they are projecting spectacular increases in food prices, hand-in-hand [with] spectacular increases in famine, in food insecurity and starvation around the world.

I think we’re just looking now at a glimmer of what’s ahead if we cannot begin to seriously address all aspects of this—not just a little piece of the trade problem or a little piece of the humanitarian aid problem or the value of the dollar, but a much bigger picture about how we’re all living on this planet together.’

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