Why Food Crises Haunt Africa

Why Food Crises Haunt Africa

By: Ovetta Sampson, with Elizabeth Karanja in Kenya and Erasto Malila in Tanzania   |   Posted: March 20, 2006

Part 2

Drought in Africa is nothing new. But experts say a mix of factors blanketed by poverty leads to repeated food crises in the region.

Why are so many African countries constantly plagued by food shortages?

Experts say violent conflicts, archaic agricultural methods, natural disasters and, in some countries, bad governance are obvious culprits in the recent food crisis in East Africa.

But these problems are not the only reasons African populations are so vulnerable to such emergencies as food shortages, says Jennifer Parmelee, Public Affairs Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme. Poverty plays a role as well.

Poverty Creates Crises

 "Populations (in East Africa) have been confronting drought conditions in Kenya for five of the past six years," says Parmelee. "(This) means families are exhausting their means to survive.

"Livestock herds shrink and die off, and farmers sell off household assets to compensate for smaller harvests - plunging more and more families deeper into poverty making them more and more vulnerable to the next crisis that comes along."

While images of emaciated children yearning for food attract media and national attention, it's the constant inability to secure food that Compassion-assisted children and millions of villagers struggle to defeat.

A Persistent Enemy

When 16-year-old Teresia Suakei wakes up at 6 a.m. each day to help prepare breakfast for her mother and her four siblings, she has one recurring thought: "That I won't be hungry due to the drought," she says.

For Teresia and many of the children attending the Kiloh Child Development Center, hunger is a persistent enemy that doesn't leave when humanitarian relief trucks vacate. In this area of Kenya, a dusty savannah where gazelles and antelopes roam in the bushes and zebras nibble on acacia trees, hunger is a real and consistent threat.

"One time we slept without food," Teresia remembers. "There was a drought and our area was greatly affected by this. I told God to help my parents get food and water. It was a hard time for the family."

Typical of a nomadic, cow-herding Masai tribe, Teresia's family heritage is farming. Her usual evening meal of cornmeal, beans and kale only materializes if her mother can grow it. If rain doesn't fall, her family often doesn't eat.

With an average income of just $19 a month, people in Teresia's community can't hop into the family car, drive to the local grocery store, and pick up a box of rice or canned corn.

It is this dependence upon the land for sustenance, and the inability to purchase food if the land fails, that keep villagers and indeed entire African countries on the brink of food emergencies.

"Food insecurity is a consequence of poverty," says Dr. Emmanuel Mbennah, Compassion Tanzania Country Director. "The big challenge for our government is the limited capacity for us to provide food. (The government) can't feed all the people who are too impoverished to feed themselves."

So are there any solid solutions to Africa's food shortage crisis? Read Part Three: How Compassion programs provide hope.  

What did you like about this story?