Food politics that causes hunger and malnutrition
While food should be universally available, it has become a scarce commodity available in sufficient quantities only to those who have adequate resources. The commercialisation of food has led to the starvation of millions of people around the world, majority of who are children. This is one of the biggest blot on humanity and an indictment of the global socio-economic system.
Food insecurity has been a global phenomenon plaguing mainly poor countries. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war have conspired to widen the scope of food scarcity and malnutrition. In developed countries the supply of foodstuffs, something previously taken for granted, has not only reduced but prices have also soared.
The annual United Nations World Food Day marked on October 16 was a reminder of this sorry state of affairs, and an opportunity to mobilise all players in the food chain towards food security for everyone on the planet. The 2022 theme is “Leave no one behind”, and seeks to promote global awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and to highlight the need to ensure healthy diets for all.
Food is covered under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.1, of ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round. SDG Target 2.2 also requires countries to eradicate all forms of malnutrition. Unfortunately, these two milestones are yet to be achieved.
According to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in The World” report published in 2021 by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, it is estimated that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year.
The report noted that no region across the world has been spared from the vagaries of food insecurity as a result of spiralling costs and climate related phenomena. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already worsening situation by adversely affecting farming activities, industrial food production and disruption of food supply chains.
However, the issue of food goes beyond its wholesomeness or availability. Some powerful countries use food as a political weapon. It is especially immoral that millions of metric tons of food are wasted in Western countries, while millions of children die from hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.
The controversy surrounding Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) is also unresolved in many countries. In Kenya for instance, this has been a hot and controversial topic, with the new government promising to legalize the growing, production and sale of these foods in the country after remaining illegal for years. In fact, GMOs are illegal in most countries in the region.
Food safety is also another sensitive issue that needs to be resolved. Developing countries have accused developed countries of duping expired food in their countries either as aid or as cheap and affordable foods. But since beggars cannot be choosers, poor countries have little or no choice but to consume the suspect products.
Obviously, the problem moves from one of hunger to one of ill health due to the toxicity of the consumed food. Sadly, there is no enforcement agency that can call the food donors to account and even make them pay for the medical costs accrued from food poisoning. This is subhuman treatment that equates humans to animals.
For the African continent, few cannot understand how a population almost equal to that of China cannot feed itself while the continent has one of the most fertile lands in the world. Even countries that have very small arable land comparable to their population are able to achieve food self-sufficiency.
— The writer is a PhD student in International Relations.