High prices a key cause of SADC hunger

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Image source: www.idrc.caFood security analysts say hunger in the SADC region has many causes. The causes are so numerous, so intertwined, that it’s virtually impossible – even for the analysts themselves – to name the one that carries the heaviest, and worst, weight. It comes down to personal subjectivity. So here’s the subjectivity of EJN's Simon Vilikazi. In his view, high food prices are the largest contributors to hunger among the unemployed poor. And it’s time for all of us, goverments included, to pay especial attention to them.

Read More“In an era of unprecedented rises in food prices, access to affordable food is a matter of life and death, particularly for the poor and vulnerable.” This was the statement was made by delegates at a public policy debate on food security in August, 2008. One year later, it’s safe to say that that dire situation has grown even worse.

Our SADC region is still plagued by high levels of hunger among unemployed poor people in rural and urban areas. Simply put, these are people who can’t afford to buy the food they need to live, and this is because food prices are unrealistically high in most countries of the region.

It’s widely known that all the food produced in the world can feed all the world’s people. Hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food in the world. It is largely caused by restricted access to existing food on the part of the poor.

If there’s enough food in the world to feed us all, it is sad that it doesn’t reach all the people who need it. The Book of Proverbs says, “The field of the poor may yield much food but it is swept away through injustice”.

The poor people themselves might be involved in the production of food, but they end up seeing or accessing it after they have produced it. They end up denied of the ownership and access to the food they produce. Issues of ownership and affordability of food become a problem, and these nullify equal access to available food.

A recent internal World Bank Report said that “rising food prices have pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line, leading to labeling of the situation as the first real economic crisis of globalization.”

Those who own food, charge prices, and those who need food must pay before accessing it. In turn, if you don’t have money to pay for the food you need to consume, you don’t get access to it unless there is someone else who can facilitate it on your behalf. In many countries in the SADC region, people do not have access to the money they need to buy food. Most of our countries have high levels of unemployment, with the unemployed outnumbering the employed.

Governments try to assist the unemployed and poor people to access food through various social assistance interventions. However, the problem is that the social assistance programmes don’t offer recipients enough money for them to meet their household food needs.

Governments try to assist poor people with small-scale farming assistance. They are assisted with seeds, access to land, basic finance and other resources. But there are many governments in the region that don’t do this, leaving the poor to their own devices.

You find large numbers of unemployed poor people scrapping for food from garbage bins and sorting garbage in dumping sites for things they can sell so that they buy themselves something to eat.

The prices for food are unaffordable for them.  The producers of food sell their produce to food retailers, who then charge the ordinary consumers more money than they paid to the producers. At the end of it all, food prices become too high for the unemployed and the poor. They end up eating less and less, and less and less healthily.

All governments in the SADC region must protect the rights of unemployed poor people to access healthy and adequate foodstuffs. Governments must intervene. They must curb retailers from making exorbitant profits on basic foods.


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Humanity is living off its ecological credit card and can only do this by liquidating the planet's natural resources - Mathis Wackernagel