Friday, 18 March 2011

Why can't Africa get food production and food need aligned?

According to the World Bank, high food prices pushed 44 million into poverty since June 2010. This article (h/t @CARE) is an interesting (and quick) analysis of the 10 countries probably most affected by the food price hikes. The 10 countries are Brazil, Kyrgyzstan, Burundi, Bangladesh, Argentina, Vietnam, Cameroon, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uganda. Some of them rely heavily on wheat and so were affected by poor wheat production in Russia. In South America, droughts affected corn production. Others are more difficult to explain.

Burundi saw major price increased in rice and beans. These two commodities provide 20% of most people's diet in Burundi. 93.5% of the population works in agriculture. What is wrong with the food system in Burundi that this is possible? How can almost everyone be working to grow (food?) and many people be unable to buy food because of high prices?

53% of Uganda's farmers grow beans. 82% of the population works in agriculture. The price of beans increased by 38%. Beans are a crucial source of protein in the country. Cameroon has a similar situation, though probably slightly less serious.

Although this problem is not unique to Africa, these figures would suggest it is particularly bad here. Why is it that African countries, where agriculture is the focus of many (sometimes most) people's daily work, can't seem to match up what is needed with what is produced so that large numbers of people are not pushed further into poverty by high prices? Are there inefficiencies in these markets? Is it really a case of speculation run riot? Have farmers been pushed into cash crops at the expense of food production? And should African governments be taking more drastic steps - even at the risk of interfering in markets - to regulate production and cost so that lives and livelihoods (on both the production and consumption end) are protected?

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