June 12, 2020
The article, Africa: COVID-19 Recovery Is a Chance to Improve the African Food System, reprinted below raises important issues concerning Africa’s food supply. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the failures of the global economic system. To wit: The gutting of healthcare in the so called advanced sector over the last half century left nations unprepared for what should have been expected, a new contagious zoonotic disease. Nations that depended on thousand mile long supply chains for basic necessities, including medical supplies and drugs, proved to be disastrous for their populations. The absence of vitally essential products led to increased rates morbidity and mortality.
Tragically, Africa has been forced to devote large portions of its foreign exchange on debt service rather than building up its healthcare infrastructure. Adequate healthcare requires not only more hospitals, beds, physicians, and modern advanced equipment, but electricity, clean water, sanitation, roads, rail roads, adequate supply of nutrition, and elimination of poverty. A poorly fed population suffering from malnutrition provides an auspicious host for the spread of disease. Poverty is a co-factor of all diseases.
Last month, David Beasley, Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), warned that, if economic conditions continue to deteriorate and endanger the production and distribution of food to impoverished nations, we could witness famines in Africa, and other parts of the world. He said, “You could have 150,000 to 300,000 people die of starvation every day for several months.”
Africa has millions of acres of fertile but uncultivated land. The continent is reported to have over 60% of the world’s land lying fallow that could be developed for food production. It has been known since the early 1970s that the Africa continent has the potential to not only produce enough food for its own population, but could become a net exporter of food to help feed other nations.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what was there to see all along; Africa and large sections of the world have remained underdeveloped for decades due to the horribly defective policy of globalization.
To accomplish an agricultural revolution in Africa, we will also need to create an industrial revolution in Africa as well. The failure to industrialize Africa, to build manufacturing industries along with mechanized farming is a major contributing factor in reduced life expectancy, poverty, disease, and instability. The Physiocratic doctrine that all wealth comes from the land was efficiently refuted by President Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.* The super productive family farms in the United States matured alongside manufacturing cities, and had access to abundant supplies of energy for irrigation.
Let is use the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic to initiate a program to develop Africa’s full economic potential that will finally end poverty and hunger. To realize this absolutely achievable objective, we will need to create a New Bretton Woods System to drive economic growth. President Franklin Roosevelt intended the original Bretton Woods to be an institution to export his New Deal for developing nations, as was discussed with the Ethiopian delegation at the 1944 conference. Now, over a half century later we must realize this goal.
*Report on Manufacturers- December 5,1791
The World Food Programme has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause one of the worst food crises since World War II. It predicts a doubling of the number of people going hungry – more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. While wealthier people stay inside and practise physical distancing, the economically marginalised populations risk going out in search of food. They take decisions between livelihoods and life in the most extreme cases. Such food inequities show the need for system-level action.
So far, the global food system has proven to be resilient to the COVID-19 pandemic. Food is still being produced, processed and distributed. Unfortunately, the system’s underlying injustices and inequities continue too. Around 1.58 billion people globally can’t afford healthy diets.
These inequities are especially stark on the African continent. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the African food system was ailing. Food is perennially in short supply. In 2018, more than 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa experienced severe food insecurity, incomes for farmers are lower than anywhere globally in real terms, and more than 30% of children are stunted partly due to poverty and poor diets.”
Read: COVID-19 Recovery: Chance to Improve African Food System and Repositioning Agriculture for Africa’s Youth
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Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com