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close this bookWar and Famine in Africa (Oxfam, 1991, 36 p.)
close this folder2 Food insecurity and the new world order
View the document2.1 The new world order'
View the document2.2 The position of Africa

2.1 The new world order'

Since the 1970s the world economy has entered an essentially new, global phase of development. This economy has, of course, always been 'international'. What distinguishes the present period, however, is its degree of internationalisation. The current informational revolution has transformed the world economy into a single interdependent unit that functions in real time (Castells, 1989). This process has led to profound changes in the developed and under-developed worlds. From within the old industrialised countries of the West, staggering technological advances have been made. This situation has been more than matched by the newly industrialised countries of the Far East which, centred upon Japan, have emerged as the point of fastest growth in the world economy (Hoffman and Kaplinsky, 1988). With regard to the poorest countries in the world, and the poorest sections of the population in the West, the period is equally important, but for different reasons. Following major improvements in health and other social indicators since the end of the Second World War, during the 1970s this progress began to falter (Cornia et al., 1987). These two inter-connected trends form the historical context of this report.

This global restructuring results from major changes in social and economic policy. During the 1970s, partly in response to the challenge from the Far East, the old industrialised countries embarked upon the modernisation of their social and economic systems. While pursued more consistently in the USA and United Kingdom, neo-liberal policies aimed at dismantling the post-war redistributive state, in favour of an enabling state that promotes market values, began to cross all boundaries, and have been implemented by parties of all political persuasion. The collapse of the planned economies of Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War were the most spectacular indications of this trend. Within the market economies a two-tier welfare system has begun to take shape. The economically active sectors of the population are increasingly expected to seek welfare services in the market place; while a safety net, partly constructed from contractual relations between local authorities and voluntary agencies, is being put into place for the remainder (Stoker, 1989). In the world's poorest countries similar market reforms have been introduced in an attempt to halt their decline. In other words, the new world order is characterised not only by an extension of capitalism into remote areas of the world previously unaffected by it, but also by a matched internationalisation of public welfare.

2.2 The position of Africa

The emergence of a new world order has stimulated some key developments in Africa:
a the reinforcement of an earlier colonial division of labour at a time when much of the rest of the world is undergoing rapid change and diversification;
b. despite attempts at intensification, a decline in the performance of many of these traditional productive sectors, leading to food insecurity;
c. the growth of internal conflict;
d. the increasing importance of food and welfare aid mediated by the international community.

Only the first two of these factors are examined in this section. Taken together, these interconnected elements provide an outline of Africa's structural position within the new world order. It should be emphasised that this is essentially a new and emerging development. During the 1960s, many African countries reached what, in retrospect, now looks like a high point of economic development and general prosperity.

The division of labour

The informational revolution that has transformed the leading industrial countries has not been repeated in Africa. Indeed, since the 1970s, the pattern has been for various factors to reinforce rather than change an earlier division of labour based upon the export of primary products. This occurred at a time when other developing countries, especially those in the Far East, were switching to the export of manufactured goods (Josling, 1987). Given the simultaneous technological changes taking place in manufacturing, especially the growing use of synthetic materials (Kaounides, 1990), the increased reliance upon traditional primary products is a major concern, which should be seen apart from the adverse market trends which also accompanied this development.

One factor helping to reinforce the old division of labour has been the decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) in African industry. Although in relative terms FDI in much of Africa has never been great, due to lack of infrastructure and high production costs, it began to decline during the 1970s (World Bank, 1989). To take the example of Britain: over the past decade British FDI in Africa has virtually collapsed. During this period around a third of the companies previously involved have disengaged, leaving Africa's share of British FDI at 0.4 per cent of the British world total (Bennell, 1990). A similar capital flight has been observed for South Africa (Smith, 1990). Investors view Europe and North America as better propositions. Dependency theorists may see cause for quiet optimism in this trend. Since the early 1980s, however, African policy makers have become increasingly concerned. Based upon the experience of the Far East, an emerging view is that trade and investment between rich and poor countries can be beneficial, especially if they result in the transfer of technology. In the prevailing climate, however, the prospects for developing such links are not encouraging.

The IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programmes (together with market reforms that some countries have independently initiated, because they are predominantly aimed at boosting the production of primary products) can be seen as an additional factor which has tended to entrench the old division of labour.

The emergence of food insecurity

The growth of food insecurity in Africa is a complex phenomenon. Different countries have often arrived at similar ends, although travelling separate routes. In general terms, Africa has continued to sustain a high level of population growth at the same time as per capita food production has declined. This has resulted in a growing number of countries consuming more than they produce (de Janvry, 1987). Reflecting an increasing urban demand, there has been a corresponding trend for the import of commercial foodstuffs to increase. So far, this trajectory is not untypical of normal development conditions. Many economically viable countries suffer from food deficits, and regularly import to make up the difference. In the case of Africa, however, the situation is different. In the absence of industrialisation, Africa has continued to rely on the export of traditional primary products to furnish the hard currency to purchase commercial imports. This has occurred at a time when the price of primary products has dropped, effecting a corresponding increase in the relative cost of these imports. Deficits have therefore become increasingly difficult, and in some case impossible, to remedy. Due to reasons of climate or instability, such situations have often been compounded by the highly erratic nature of African food production. Moreover, where local surpluses may exist, a lack of infrastructure often limits the scope for internal market solutions. A major consequence has been the increasing role for external food aid at the same time as it has declined in the rest of the world. In 1987/88, for example, the countries of the InterGovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda) alone received 13 per cent of total world food aid (IGADD, 1990).

Food insecurity is now an established feature of the African condition. The statistics are staggering. Among IGADD members, for example, 45 million people, or 39 per cent of the total population, are regarded as 'food insecure'. With the exception of Malawi and Zimbabwe, a similar situation exists among the members of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) (Morgan, 1988). With respect to the 'food insecure' themselves, the two largest groups (aside from the growing number of urban poor) are poor rural households and those affected by the growth of internal conflict. In the IGADD countries about 35 per cent of the 'food insecure' (nearly 16 million people) are classed as 'war affected'. In SADCC, since the mid-1980s, food insecurity relating to internal conflict has grown dramatically. It is now estimated that some 12 million people are involved (one third of the population of Angola and half that of Mozambique). They include 6.1 million displaced within their own countries, 1.9 million refugees in neighbouring countries, and 4 million urban people affected by the resulting economic breakdown (Smith, 1990). When the situation in Southern Africa is taken into account, at least half of the total population categorised as 'food insecure' in Africa have been affected by war in some way.