Ending Africa’s hunger

In: Uncategorized

9 Sep 2009

Anyone who doubts the political degeneration of what passes for the left nowadays should read the article on “Ending Africa’s Hunger” in the 21 September issue of the Nation.

From the start it derides the idea that agricultural productivity should be raised as a technological fix. Yet, in a world whose population looks set to rise from under seven billion to about nine billion, it is hard to see how everyone can be well fed without raising output.

Even with the current world population about a billion people go hungry and many others have a poor diet – for example, with little or no access to meat or diary products. Redistribution will not provide enough resources to provide decent nutrition for all.

Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck go on to present a critique of the “Green Revolution” – the increase in agricultural yields in the years following the second world war – which is at best one-sided. No doubt it is true that much of the motivation for it was a desire to head off political revolution. But it goes on to argue:

“Beyond the massive displacement of peasants, the Green Revolution wrought other social damage–urban slums sprawled around cities to house displaced workers, pesticide use went up, groundwater levels fell and industrial agricultural practices began racking up significant environmental debt.”

But what is wrong in principle with the urbanisation of poor countries? Usually it is a sign of growing affluence. And the ability to use pesticides was no doubt welcomed by poor farmers. As for “environmental debt” it is, as I have argued elsewhere, a dubious concept.

The authors present themselves as critics of a conventional wisdom upheld by Barack Obama as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Behind them they see the hand of giant corporations such as Monsanto. Instead they propose a view based on organic farming, ecological farming systems and indigenous knowledge. Whatever the problems associated with the mainstream approach it is hard to think of a more likely recipe for famine than their alternative.

All of the authors work for Food First, a campaigning organisation based in Oakland, California, and have co-authored Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice.

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