23 May 2012

Africa: The G8 Can't Get 50 Million Africans Out of Poverty, Only We Can Do That

Photo: FAO
Farmers in Burundi.


"Today we commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities. This New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade," the G-8 said in a statement on Saturday.


I've learnt to take ANYTHING coming out of a G-8 summit with a huge dollop of salt. Remember the 2005 G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland? The United States, Canada, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Russia promised us, Africans, to provide an extra $25bn a year for Africa as part of a $50bn increase in financial assistance by 2010. Well, unsurprisingly, the extra $25 billion hasn't been realised and neither has the additional $50 billion.

Honestly, I am not surprised by the huge shortfalls. It's been a rough couple of years for the G-8 with the American economy floundering and the European Union in the gripes of crisis, and with this new declaration these nations are finally coming to terms with the fact that they actually can't do much about Africa's poverty.

If you look at the wording of the above statement, you will see that the 'New Alliance' (whatever that is) will 'accelerate the flow of private capital' into the African agricultural sector. In less flowery language, the G-8 is promising to simply point their private companies towards Africa's shores and say "GO"! To this I say, if these private companies haven't jumped on the Africa bandwagon I doubt that this Alliance will make them do so. The ones that want to be here are already here.

I was amused by the invitation the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania received to attend the G-8 meeting on food security. Not because I have a problem with the G-8's overall choice of invitees, but rather because I disagree with the premise of the invitations. Africa isn't a single country, despite what a lot of people in the West think, and the issues that these four nations face in order to ensure food security aren't necessarily the ones the rest of the fifty states grapple with.

Honestly, in my basic knowledge of food security, I don't think that lack of Western agricultural investment is the reason that our children either die of hunger or suffer stunted growth. The issues are closer to home and immune to a magical 'silver bullet' from the West.

First of all, let's acknowledge that each and every country has its own challenges. For example, while Rwanda has had to deal with horrible topography (for agriculture at least, not, say, tourism), exhausted soils and a population density second to none in Africa, you cannot tell me that Nigeria faces the same issue. Rwanda has had to look at local solutions and they have worked. Rwanda has been food secure for years now and noticeably that happened while all around us, mayhem prevailed.

The solutions for problems must come from within, not without. One doesn't need a huge surge of dollars to feed the mouths of our children.

All you need is some stability, focus, the involvement of the entire citizenry and basic scientific knowhow. I know that putting these factors into play is easier said than done, but we don't have much choice. Our salvation won't come from Washington DC; it will come from Blantyre, Libreville, N'Djamena and Ouagadougou. And Kigali, of course.

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