The Gambia is one of the tiniest countries in West Africa with a homogeneous population of about 1.5 million people (2003 population and housing census). In fact it also one of the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa, the UNDP’s Global Human Development Report 2010 placed The Gambia 151 out of 169 countries ranked in its Human Development Index. This (2010) ranking means that the country has dropped by one per cent from its 2009 ranking of 150. The Human Development Index (HDI) measures a country’s average achievements in three basic aspects of human development namely health, education and income. These three basic aspects of human development are a necessity for any serious crusade against ‘the twin brothers’ of hunger and poverty.
In this year’s world food day celebrations, I reflect on the situation in the Gambia. Briefly, let’s look at an old argument; “Have rising food prices hurt the poor or helped them?” asked Derek Headey Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Addis Ababa in an article entitled “Was the global food crisis really a crisis? Simulations versus self-reporting”. In the article dated 6 June 2011, Headey argues that “So far everything we know about this topic comes from simulation analysis, all of which suggest that rising prices have substantially raised global poverty or hunger (e.g. Aksoy and Hoekman 2010). This is no less true for us in the Gambia.
In most parts of Africa, hunger and poverty are a reality in everyday life. In recent times, hunger and food crises have turn endemic and the eruption of a rapid increase in food prices provided a fresh window on this cultural fact. In contemporary history, capitalistic tendencies in the world economy have deepened what experts have described as “the conversion of the global South into a “world farm” for a minority of global consumers, concentrated in the global North and in strategic states and urban enclaves of the South. “The combined appropriation and redirection of food production and circulation”, according to Philip McMichael of the Global Research, “underlies the socially constructed food scarcity and permanent hunger experienced by, at conservative estimate, nearly one billion people across the world (approaching 14 percent of the world’s population). The situation in our dear tiny West African land strip is not an exception.
In an article in the Economist titled “The End of Cheap Food,” the editors noted that, by the end of 2007, the magazine’s food-price index reached its highest point since originating in 1845. Food prices had risen 75 percent since 2005, and world grain reserves were at their lowest, at fifty-four days. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), agflation from rising agro fuels production “would lead to decreases in food availability and calorie consumption in all regions of the world, with Sub-Saharan Africa suffering the most.” Agflation, is a term coined in the late 2000s, it describes generalised inflation led by rises in Agricultural commodity prices.
So what can we in the Gambia celebrate on a world food day? On the website of the United Nations Development Programme, the Gambia there is bits and pieces of information that need reflection upon on days like 16th October (world food day).
The Gambia is not the only country challenged in meeting a number of the much talked about MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). However, some of the challenges are noted as the “absence of an integrated planning framework that can effectively monitor national and local progress towards the MDGs”. “Overall, The Gambia faces serious challenges in its efforts to reliably track the MDGs.” This pushes us to doubt the beautifully framed reports on the Gambia’s progress on the MDGs. Sugar coated speeches are not to be trusted in their entirety; evidence based reports and statements is what we need on such days.
MDG 1, Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger, is of particular interest to us in this piece. Targets 1a and 1b of MDG1 (Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and achieve full productive employment for all including women and youth, respectively) are marked with an inscription in bold “Insufficient progress”. On the other hand, target 1c; reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger is noted as “On track”.
By contrast the hunger and poor situation in the Gambia may be much better today but the general consensus among the rural poor is contrary. Farmers by far have the highest rates of poverty and suffer the severest form of hunger than the rest of other members of society. In reality farmers in the Gambia constitute the majority of extremely poor households. The agricultural sector of the country remains very critical to the livelihoods of most of the poor.
The Strategy for Poverty Alleviation II policy document argues that economic growth is the prime determinant of poverty reduction in the long term. Results of research conducted in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa show that economic growth of approximately 10 percent is needed for a unit drop in poverty levels.
At the same time it is important to note that economic growth alone is not the magic requirement for poverty reduction and the lowering of hunger rates in the Gambia. Inequalities have to be equally given due consideration. There are serious income parities both between and within regions of the country.
In conclusion, government and stakeholders in the crusade against hunger and poverty should prioritise the creation of an enabling environment for price stability through improved macroeconomic management, especially fiscal and monetary management.
Sustained effective and efficient gains in public resource management will no doubt help catalyse development to the highest level possible thus extenuating hunger and reducing poverty.