African economic growth fails the hungry

Latest world polls conducted by Gallup find that 57% of sub-Saharan Africans periodically lack sufficient money to feed their families. Gallup says the recent surge in global food prices could make matters worse.

This assessment will disturb the perception that African economies are performing well. “Growth in sub-Saharan Africa rebounded strongly in 2010,” declared Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank Managing Director, at the MIT Sloan Africa conference on Friday. “There are serious investors who are seriously interested in Africa. It is now Africa’s time!” she said.

Polling results for Ghana and Malawi in particular will baffle experts. Ghana is considered to be an African tiger. Last month’s IMF mission predicted that 2011 economic growth could rocket to 13%. Yet the Gallup poll found 53% of Ghanaians to be in difficulties with basic food security.

Like Ghana, Malawi’s achievements in reducing hunger featured prominently in presentations of success stories for last September’s UN world summit to review the Millennium Development Goals. But Malawi’s performance in the Gallup poll was even worse than Ghana.

Conducted across 28 countries in the region, the Gallup survey asked the question: “have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have money to buy the food that you or your family needed?”

Whilst a broad international Gallup poll is no substitute for a focused national household expenditure survey, these latest results will reinforce fears that Africa’s economic revival is not trickling down beyond the urban educated elites.

The results of Ghana’s next Living Standards Survey, due to be conducted during 2011, will be anxiously awaited.

More worrying still is the result for South Africa where 54% of those polled said they could not feed their family consistently. One of the dynamic group of fast emerging countries known by the BRICS acronym, South Africa is perceived as a social utopia by poor workers in the smaller economies of sub-Saharan Africa.

Another BRICS country, India, is frustrated by similar decoupling of its astronomic growth rates from the persistent hunger and malnutrition of hundreds of millions of people. In a speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry on Friday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee conceded that all is not well.

“It is evident that the fruits of growing prosperity of the economy are not being enjoyed equally by all our citizens,” he said. The Indian government is currently responding with a radical proposal for legislation to underwrite food security for all.

The depressed rural economies of sub-Saharan Africa face the added uncertainty of spiralling international interest in acquisition of agricultural land. A bubble is growing as buyers and speculators respond to fundamentals of the global food economy – rising prices, unreliable export markets and demand for biofuels.

A conference last week, hosted by the Institute of Development Studies in the UK, addressed the implications of this new scramble for Africa, sometimes described as “neo-colonial land grabbing.”

Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, told the conference: “there is a real risk that the current scramble for land will transfer wealth from the poor and the marginalised to those who have access to capital and markets, with deeply regressive consequences.”

A wide range of case studies submitted to the conference piled up evidence in support of Mr De Schutter’s fears.

Local bosses and government officials negotiate contracts with insufficient regard for small farmers already dependent on the land and its water sources. Only 10% of land in Africa is protected by legal title, as opposed to customary tenure.

Meanwhile world food prices show little sign of cooling off. On Thursday the price of corn on the Chicago exchange exceeded the all-time high recorded in July 2008. Food prices across the world will be affected.

Dr Shenggen Fan, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, explained to AFP: “most maize is used for biofuel production, so there is less to export and other countries have less to import.”

“Higher food prices will make poor people poorer and make them hungry,” he said.


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News