|Bottle-necks of Development in Africa (HABITAT)|
Good health is essential for sustained, creative and productive life. Healthy individuals are resourceful and creative and have the urge to fulfill their full potential. That is why many governments have a national health plan to ensure that it does not govern a sickly nation. But in sub-Sahara Africa 100 million of people are reported to be food insecure and many countries in the sub -region depend on food imports and emergency food aid. Therefore, millions never have enough to eat, are undernourished and are suffering from parasitic infestations and diseases associated with mar-nutrition and poor sanitation. In such an environment, development is bound to stagnate. Poverty, poor health and sustained hunger become a vicious endless circle in which there is diminished productivity and retrogression.
In traditional African societies food security was at the family level even though there was also a collective responsibility in the community for food security for all. Seasons were synchronized and there was a' living culture associated with food production, seed selection and post- harvest storage. Important structures at every homestead included granaries for grains and beans while certain crops like bananas, sugarcanes, roots crops and green vegetables were always available in the field, and especially between harvests.
At the onset of colonial era in Africa and introduction of cash
crops (coffee, tea, nuts, sugarcane plantations, horticultural crops etc.) all
that changed. The traditional farming culture was demeaned,
discredited and destroyed along with much of other hermitages of Africa. Crop land was commercialized for cash crops, granaries disappeared from the homesteads, and people became dependent on processed foods from shops. The cash economy took over.
At the same time species of trees like the eucalyptus black wattle and cornifer trees replaced indigenous species not only on farmlands but also in forest areas. As a result farmlands have lost water and certain crops like bananas, sugarcanes and local species of arrow roots no longer thrive on the drier farmlands to give food security to the local communities.
The colonial administration introduced the idea of state food security to replace the traditional food security measures. At independence, the government took over the responsibility of feeding the nation and is expected to ensure that there is enough food in state granaries to avert hunger. It is therefore, the primary responsibility of every government to ensure an adequate level of nutrition and health to its citizens. But notwithstanding statements at international conferences and round tables of development agencies about agriculture, food security, farming techniques and preventive medicine, the only farming sector which receives adequate attention is that which deals with cash crop and the one which brings in foreign exchange (coffee, nuts, tea, flowers and horticultural crops intended for export). Unfortunately, farmers are paid little for their crops and payments are often delayed. Therefore, many families sustain hunger and mar-nutrition in places where their own parents and grandparents had surplus food.
Most of the available food in Africa is produced by women and children who provide the intensive labour required on small farms under cash crops. Except for the cash crops, agriculture and food production in Africa is still a low priority, political statements notwithstanding, with-many farmers having sacrificed food production in favour of cash crops. At the same time, women's work (even in food production) is still rated low, is not a priority, has no prestige and women fanners are not adequately compensated for their labour. Governments give little attention to food production for home consumption.
And food has even become a political weapon with leader in power keeping the key to the national granaries, disposing of the food even when their own people need it and subsequently appealing for food from the international community. Agricultural Cooperative movements, once intended to support farmers, have been misused and mismanaged by Government-appointed bureaucrats in the parastatal organizations. The national agricultural policies discourage food production by local farmers and opt for cheap food in the international market. Therefore, only a government which cares about its people will protect its citizens from the politics of food. And only strong, informed non-state actors of the civil society would persuade its government not to sacrifice the local farmers at the altar of international food politics and profiteering.