The infosphere is buzzing today with some pretty heavy facts about hunger, particularly hunger in Africa. You may ask (and rightly so I might add); why the focus on Africa? Why does Africa seem to always occupy center stage when the discussion turns to an issue as damp as hunger? Well maybe because UN estimates report that out of the 925 million hungry people worldwide, the second largest contingent of the starving (239 million) resides in our fair Continent. The incidence of hunger in Africa is surpassed only by that in Asia and the Pacific (578 million) and they win only because there are more people there!
I should at this point, throw in an important distinction between hunger and malnutrition, because they are quite different and should be treated accordingly if we want to have a technically sound discussion. Hunger is the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food. Malnutrition on the other hand (or under-nutrition), is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health, and if we examine the incidence of global malnutrition, even the Asia and Pacific region with all its numbers does not surpass sub-Saharan Africa. Put in simple terms, nearly one in four in Africa go to bed hungry.
But as with all things concerning the African continent, there is always a silver lining; enter the African farmer.
About 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa and yet in these infinitely paradoxical times which we find ourselves, most Africans cannot seem to rustle up enough food to eat. BUT in the midst of this tragedy lies the opportunity for great triumph. Because under a strategically aligned set of circumstances that do not even necessarily have to be optimal, Africa can not only find itself in a place where it can feed itself, it has the potential to transform itself into a breadbasket for the entire world. Now, it would be unrealistic to propose that smallholder farmers can single-handedly transform African countries into net producers, however we do need to solve the more immediate problem of feeding ourselves, and this is a need that is not restricted to rural areas. Evidence in the form of true stories of people coming up with innovative ways to solve this problem abound.
Take Harriet Nakabaale’s story as one example. She transformed a small 50-feet-by-32-feet sliver of urban land next to her house in Uganda’s sprawling capital, Kampala, into a food stream for her family. Now called “Camp Green,” Harriet’s backyard enterprise currently mixes intensive gardening with community education on urban agricultural practices demonstrating to Kampala’s urban dwellers that food security is possible for them as well as the traditional rural farmers with access to more open land (click on the photo below to watch a video on Camp Green).
On her small city plot, Nakabaale grows everything from herbs to fruits to root vegetables. She raises poultry. She makes briquettes. She composts and recycles. A single mother of two children, Nakabaale makes a living that not only ensures the well-being of her family through a healthy diet but has provided her with income to help cover other important expenses, such as school fees. Harriet’s story demonstrates to the rest of us the power that resides in land that is treated with respect no matter how little it is. She says “Anywhere weeds can thrive, crops can grow there, too…[i]n Africa, we get hungry because we don’t know what to do with the soil we have, the land we have. It’s very important to people in urban areas to use the small space they have. If they use it profitably, it would help you cut the cost of living in town, which is very high. If you don’t cut costs, you’ll always buy and be poor forever.”
So on this very important day, my principal thought is that Africa’s farmers in all contexts can feed Africa. The key is equipping ourselves with the right tools and training to do so. This along with those strategically aligned set of circumstances I alluded to above will set us on the path towards ending hunger in Africa for good.
Your next question probably is; what are these tools and strategically aligned set of circumstances? Well…that is a blog post for another day.
Meanwhile I ask you to take a few minutes to reflect on what this day means to you as an African or an individual interested in ending hunger in Africa.
These are my thoughts; I would like to hear some of yours!