Ecologically Nothing Ever Really Dies

EcoLogically Nothing Ever Really Dies, Only transformed from one useful form to another...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Egonomics of poverty: "Silly" reasons for hunger and poverty in Africa

courtesy of
Munyaradzi Mufambisi says “If we already know the basic parameters of what needs to be done, why have we allowed hundreds of millions to go hungry in a world that produces more food for every woman, man and child? Bluntly stated, the problem is not so much lack of food as a lack of political will. There is indeed enough food in the world to sustain every person. The problem of hunger is not one of supply but of an economic system based on inequality and a gross concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” 
How I like quoting my friends like world renounced commentators. I pulled this off Munyaradzi’s Facebook profile. In case you are wondering, He is a friend and an economics/finance guy…hence the wealth and economics slant of that argument. More importantly, he is an “ordinary” guy with the concerns of any man (mine at least). This old Facebook post came to mind recently and got me thinking, could there be other reasons for a world going hungry despite producing enough or having the potential to produce enough food for all? I confess, my mind trod as far away as possible from the economics and finance argument of it all. Since I know only enough of that to hold up a conversation with a Taxi rank marshal from Gumbonzvanda (don’t ask). This is what came to mind:
There is a saying by my people, “kufa nenyota makumbo ari mumvura”. Loosely translated, “Dying of thirst while we stand in water.” I thought, there must be at least some things that we are doing to fuel this vicious cycle of hunger and starvation amid plenty (we here referring to Africans/Zimbabweans). Without worrying much about the Global economics, politics, wealth sharing and food distribution argument. What is our part in this?
Could it be a case of the man thinks the water in which he stands is too dirty to drink and so he may die from diarrhoea (which is quite ironic because if he doesn’t drink the water, he is sure to die anyway). Could it be that he doesn’t have a cup and so is too proud to cup his own hands to drink the water. Has the man been given too much of a taste of "Le good life” to make him too proud to go back to the basics in order to save his own life?
Yellow maize popped into my head. Zimbabweans call it “Kenya.” I think because it came from Kenya…I can’t be sure. It is a type of maize that any self respecting Zimbabwean would never grind to make our beloved Sadza (a thick porridge…there is more to it really but for progress’ sake, let us just call it that) come what may. It is maize like any other maize, but the colour is associated with extreme poverty, especially severe famine. The last time I saw a meal made from yellow maize was in 1993. This was around the time Zimbabwe experienced the worst drought of my generation. It is as if Zimbabweans signed a contract with the wind that stated “as of this year, we will never make Sadza from yellow maize again, its too demeaning” and as long as the wind blows, that contract stands! A Zimbabwean will only have his Sadza white or no Sadza at all. We wouldn’t be caught dead eating a meal made with yellow maize. We would rather starve. Such attitudes and beliefs though seemingly petty and trivial to an outsider can easily make or break a well meaning programme to relieve people from the clutches of hunger. Even if all the maize in the world were redistributed, we wouldn’t touch it as long as it was any other colour but white. Our egos won’t allow it.
Another idea popped into my head. How about improved farming technologies? They have worked wonders all over the world (case in point being Asia), why not Africa? Of course there is a whole political, socio-economic argument there, but im shying away from those. I am sticking with the seemingly silly arguments today! It got me thinking, improved technologies have failed in Africa (of course not entirely) not from a lack of trying. In a ridiculously large number of cases, farmers just simply won’t adopt them. Again, there are a lot of political and economic reasons to that too. However if you have as a researcher or development person ever encountered indigenous farmers that simply tell you “this is how we have done things for as long as we can remember and we are not going to change” then you probably know what I am talking about. All scientific reason and evidence will not move such people even if efforts are for their own good. Tradition and history can easily throw spanners in well meaning works to alleviate hunger and poverty. There is a lot that can be learnt from indigenous people (a whole lot) but if locals also continue to resist foreign interventions, simply because our egos won’t let us part with tradition, then progress towards “food for all” will be severely retarded.
How I would love to hear other “seemingly silly” arguments about why there is so much hunger and poverty in the world. Where else on the continent or the world does the “yellow maize” or “we have been doing this for years” mindset persist?