Food Riots And National Security
Food Riots And National Security Website
On April 12, 1980, Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, then 39 years, shot himself into the Executive Mansion, Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. The then President William R. Tolbert Jnr. and his entire cabinet were slaughtered to herald what became one of Africa's bloodiest military coups. Even though there were several underlying factors, what delivered the coup-de grace was what was referred to as the Rice Riots of 1979. That was the year there were serious food shortages in Liberia. Rice which is the staple of Liberians became scarce. You may not believe it but inadequate rice supply brought a person like Doe to power in Liberia and subsequently brought about characters like Charles Taylor. In 1991, Frederick Chiluba, a former bus conductor and trade unionist, led a party to sweep Kenneth Kaunda out of office through a landslide victory, thanks to a serious economic downslide, including an acute shortage of maize which constitute the basic food of most Zambians. This year, the writing is on the wall, the world is going to suffer serious shortages, if the food-related riots in Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia are anything to go by. Apart from the global situation, the World Food Programme (WFP) has predicted that 27 sub-Saharan countries need help in respect of food supply. The President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, has raised the alarm bells already, with the declaration that about 100 million people in poor countries, mostly in Africa, could be pushed deeper into poverty by the upward spiraling of prices. The World Bank, in response to this threatening calamity, has announced some emergency measures, including the doubling of loans to African farmers. The President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, has also ordered the release of US$200 million in emergency aid to alleviate food shortages in Africa and other parts of the world. Apart from these temporary reliefs, what is Africa doing about the food situation, in view of the fact that the continent has lived with food shortages over the years? Africa has battled food shortages and famine for several reasons. These could be either natural or what could be described as self-inflicted. Excessive wars, military strife and military coups have had their toll on food production in many parts of the continent. Countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Cote d'Ivoire which have experienced civil wars and social conflicts have traditionally experienced food shortages of varied degrees. Climatic conditions such as drought and floods have also affected food production in many countries, especially those in the Sahelian region and East Africa. Notwithstanding these natural factors, Africa's problems which include inadequate food production have been largely the combination of irresponsible political leadership, which has a long-term effect on food security, under investment in rural economies where agricultural activities take place and unfair international trade barriers which frustrate local farmers. While many African governments make a lot of noise about increasing agricultural output, the situations on the ground are different from what they say. Many food growing areas are not accessible to the marketing centres. This coupled with inadequate storage and preservation facilities means that even the little that is produced go waste and never reach the consumers. In Ghana, the construction of silos which were initiated during the Nkrumah era were never completed because of the political twist given to the enterprise by those in opposition at the time, with the assistance of foreign interests that have everything to lose if Ghana were self-sufficient in food production. Factories that had been built to preserve agricultural produce have been neglected and abandoned while millions of dollars are spent importing canned foods from other countries. According to an International Food Policy Research Institute report; "Problems such as corruption, collusion and nepotism can significantly inhibit the capacity of governments to promote development efforts." Ghana's case falls within this category where more than US$400 million is currently spent annually on the importation of rice alone, when the crop could be cultivated in almost all the regions of the country. Incidentally, those whose responsibility it is to encourage local production have direct or indirect benefit to derive from the importation of the commodity, as big-time importers or distributors. In the same way, the local poultry industry has suffered due to excessive importation of poultry products from Brazil and other countries. Food aid, though they have short-term advantages, have negative effects ultimately. First, free or cheap food aid dulls the determination of local farmers to produce their own. It also affects the market situation to the disadvantage of local production and stretches the dependency syndrome. Some of this food sometimes comes at a time recipient countries are enjoying bumper harvests and were actually designed to offload stored produce of farmers in foreign countries. African countries, under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have removed subsidies on agricultural inputs while unbridled trade liberalisation have opened the valves widely for foreign products to enter these countries to the detriment of local production which cannot compete evenly with these cheaper and yet sometimes questionable quality imports. The construction of the silos abandoned after the overthrow of the Nkrumah regime had never been resuscitated thereby giving room for food to go waste. While food production has lagged behind consumption levels, population control has not been so effective. Sub-Saharan Africa's population, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), has grown faster than any other region in the past 30 years. It said between 1975 and 2005, the region's population more than doubled from 335 million to 751 million. An attempt is being made to link global food shortages to the production of biogas in commercial quantities. The reason why this cannot offer any tangible reason for Africa's food problems is that no African country is undertaking any major biogas production. Second, the continent has enough fertile land to feed itself if only those in political leadership can put their acts together and tap the vast resources at their disposal to produce enough to feed their population, enough to go into bio-fuel production and even export. This means African countries must invest more in agricultural production. Exhortations to farmers should be backed by concrete support in the form of credit facilities, availability of inputs such as tools and agro-chemicals and good road network to facilitate the transport of farm produce to marketing centres. Food storage and preservation should be taken seriously. There is too much wastage at the moment and the more bumper harvests are preserved, the less the danger of food shortages. More intra-regional trade should be encouraged. The situation where as one country is experiencing a bumper harvest another is suffering from food shortage should be exploited to the mutual benefit of all parties. The greatest weapon to fight hunger is good governance. Most African leaders lack the courage to embark on ambitious agricultural programmes. There are too many contradictions in the system which must be addressed. There is no use declaring support for local production when those who control political power are themselves importers or are in alliance with food importers. There is no need to celebrate independence when a country which has the capacity lacks the ability to feed itself. This is a challenge to African leaders.