By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 4 2023 (IPS)
Some days ago in Rome, the Italian taxi driver switched on the radio during a longish ride through the usual traffic jam. Music, gossip, and the hourly news bulletin. All of a sudden, the man strongly hit the steering wheel. “They are stupid, those bastards…,” he shouted.
“These useless politicians speak every now and then about the need for solidarity with Africa…, blah, blah, blah,” he added. “But the solution is easy, very easy, even the most stupid can see it.”
According to the taxi driver, “the solution is that the government sends to Africa our retired engineers, agronomists, university professors… to teach Africans how to farm.”
The external debt of the world’s low and middle-income countries at the end of 2021 totalled 9 trillion US dollars, more than double the amount a decade ago. Such debt is expected to increase by an additional 1.1 trillion US dollars in 2023
The man was so furious that you would not dare to comment that African farmers already know how to farm… far more than many foreign academicians.
History tells us that Africans were among the first farmers on Earth, and that they knew –and still know– what to plant, when, where and how. And that one of Africa’s biggest deserts, the Sahara used to be one of the greenest areas in the world.
Now that this vast continent –the second largest after Asia– home to around 1.4 billion humans, is experiencing unprecedented hunger, malnutrition, undernourishment and death, outsider technology moguls have now come out with another “easy solution”: the digitalisation of farming…
Those moguls, and the world’s largest organisations, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, insisting that what poor farmers need is to use devices such as smartphones and computers, and download apps that tell them what to farm, when, where, how, and with which inputs. They call it “transformation.”
Meanwhile, they do not hesitate to attribute to the condemnable war in Ukraine the tsunami of poverty and famine that have been for years and even decades striking the most impoverished humans, saying that that proxy war stands behind such a horrifying situation, or at least that it heavily contributes to dangerously worsening it.
Africa before Ukraine’s war
Here are some key factors to be taken into consideration:
- Hunger in Africa started around four decades ago, amidst a striking shortage of the most basic preventions and social services, like education and health, leading to the surge of diseases that were given for eliminated in other parts of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the Horn of Africa hunger emergency sparks surge in disease.
- WHO also alerts that “life-threatening hunger caused by climate shocks, violent insecurity and disease in the Horn of Africa, have left nearly 130,000 people “looking death in the eyes.”
- The world leading health body also reports “exponential rise in cholera cases in Africa”,
- Several African regions have been facing the impacts of the hardest-ever weather extremes, with unprecedented absence of precipitation and record droughts now for the fifth consecutive year.
- This and the previous factors have led to massive migration waves, in addition to millions of internally displaced people, let alone tens of thousands of homeless,
- Conflicts, fights for water and fertile lands, have pushed 33 African nations high in the ranking of the Least Developed Countries,
- Africa is the continent that has contributed the least (just 2 to 3%) to the causes of the current climate emergencies while bearing the brunt of 82% of the devastating consequences,
- As many as 45 African countries fall further under what the International Monetary Fund calls: “The Big Funding Squeeze,” as funding shrinks to lowest ever levels,
- Indebtedness: The external debt of the world’s low and middle-income countries at the end of 2021 totalled 9 trillion US dollars, more than double the amount a decade ago. Such debt is expected to increase by an additional 1.1 trillion US dollars in 2023. A high number of those countries are located in Africa.
- International trade barriers, dominance of mostly Western giant private chains of food production and distribution, price fixing and market speculation, “vulture funds” intensive and extensive land grabbing, armed conflicts, are factors standing behind such a gloomy situation,
- Add to the above the unstoppable rush for Africa’s precious minerals, in particular those which are indispensable for the production and worldwide sales of electronic devices, like the smartphones and computers African farmers are now told to use. Let alone all other natural resources,
- Africa’s oil resources have been exploited over long decades, now more than ever,
- Then you have the excessive use of chemicals, such as fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, as well as Genetically Modified Organisms and the cultivation of non-autochthonous commodities by the dominant industrial intensive agriculture systems,
- The concentration of key commodities production, such as grains and cereals, in a reduced number of countries (See the case of Russia, Ukraine, let alone major producers such as the United States, Europe, Canada, India…)
Such concentration is so intense that, in his recent article: The War in Ukraine Triggers a Record Increase in World Military Spending, IPS journalist Thalif Deen reported that “The United Nations has warned that the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine has threatened to force up to 1.7 billion people — over one-fifth of humanity — into poverty, destitution and hunger.”
And that “Long before the war, Ukraine and Russia provided about 30 percent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil. But the ongoing 14th-month-old war has undermined– and cut-off– most of these supplies.”
Also that “Together, the UN pointed out, their grain was an essential food source for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people, providing more than one-third of the wheat imported by 45 African and least-developed countries (LDCs), described as “the poorest of the world’s poor.”
All these key factors are extraneous to Africa… all of them!
Perhaps what Africa deserves most is a just reparation for the long decades of exploitation by its former European colonisers –now giant private corporations–, and a fair compensation for the devastating damage caused by their induced climate emergencies and so many other extraneous causes.