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Analyse critique des causes de l'insécurité alimentaire mondiale

Bien que la production alimentaire et agricole mondiale, au vu des tendances actuelles, s'annonce suffisante pour satisfaire la demande dans les décennies à venir, le monde connaît encore une crise alimentaire grave, tout aussi dangereuse et menaçante pour des millions de pauvres que la crise des années passées. Dans ce contexte, le présent article a pour but d'éclairer la situation alimentaire mondiale et d'analyser d'un oeil critique les causes profondes de l'insécurité alimentaire en identifiant les nombreux malentendus qui entourent notre conception de la faim, de la famine et de la pauvreté. Il est impératif de mieux comprendre les causes réelles de la faim et de la malnutrition dans les pays pauvres pour encourager les responsables politiques et les planificateurs à ouvrir la voie, au niveau communautaire de base, à des politiques et des programmes de développement appropriés conçus pour soulager la pauvreté et assurer la sécurité alimentaire.

Un análisis crítico de las causas de la inseguridad alimentaria mundial

Aunque las tendencias actuales parecen indicar que la disponibilidad de alimentos y la producción agrícola mundiales serán suficientes para satisfacer la demanda de los próximos decenios, el mundo sigue enfrentándose con graves situaciones de crisis, por lo menos tan peligrosas como las del pasado y no menos amenazadoras para la vida de millones de

personas pobres. El objetivo principal de este artículo consiste en aclarar la situación alimentaria mundial y efectuar un análisis crítico de las causas básicas de la inseguridad alimentaria mundial, identificando diversas concepciones erróneas que dificultan la comprensión de los fenómenos del hambre, la inanición y la pobreza. Un conocimiento más profundo y claro de las verdaderas causas del hambre y la malnutrición en los países pobres es condición indispensable para permitir que los formuladores y planificadores de políticas puedan, a nivel de base, echar los cimientos de unas medidas normativas apropiadas y de unos programas de desarrollo destinados a aliviar la pobreza y garantizar la seguridad alimentaria.

A critical analysis of the causes of world food insecurity

Tesfa G. Gebremedhin

Professor of Agricultural Economics
West Virginia University, USA

Although world food and agricultural production, based on current trends, should be sufficient to meet demand in the decades ahead, the world still faces a serious food crisis that is as dangerous and life-threatening for millions of poor people today as in the past. The main objective of this article is to illuminate the world food situation and to make a critical analysis of the root causes of world food insecurity by identifying the various misconceptions surrounding our understanding of hunger, starvation and poverty. A clear and deeper understanding of the real causes of hunger and malnutrition in poor countries is imperative to challenge and enable policy-makers and planners to lay the groundwork at the grassroots level for appropriate policy measures and development programmes aimed at alleviating poverty and ensuring food security.

At the 1974 World Food Conference, government leaders proclaimed that "every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition". The conference set the international community an ambitious goal: to eradicate hunger from human society within a decade. More than two decades later, many children still go to bed hungry, many families still fear for their next day's bread and the potential of many individuals is stunted by hunger and malnutrition. Although overall and per caput world food production has risen, the goal of the conference has not been fulfilled. In fact, today the world faces a renewed food crisis, at least as dangerous and life-threatening as that of the past. No one knows exactly how many of the world's people are undernourished today because there is a lack of reliable counts from many countries. However, if appropriate data collection and analyses are made, there is general agreement that the number of people who are severely affected by hunger and malnutrition is extremely large. The World Bank has estimated that more than one billion people in the world do not have enough food to lead healthy and productive lives. Furthermore, another one to two billion are at risk of falling into the ranks of the hungry and, if trends continue, the number is expected to grow daily (World Bank, 1996; Foster, 1992). These numbers are more than just statistics - they represent real people suffering from poverty and hunger. FAO data also indicated that some ten million people die annually from hunger. The latest assessment for only 93 developing countries indicates that there are nearly 800 million seriously undernourished people (Interpaks, 1996). The consequences of malnutrition are adversely affecting the livelihood and well-being of massive numbers of people and inhibiting the development of many poor countries. Incredibly, something must be wrong with the global food distribution systems because millions of people should not be hungry when there is more than enough food in the world to feed them. How can this be at a time when the "green revolution" has increased staple food crop production to a level that provides adequate energy to satisfy the needs of the global population?


Global food supplies have improved enormously since the early 1960s. World food production has never appeared better than in the 1980s and 1990s. World food and agricultural production has shown a steady increase over the years. For example, at 1 747 million tonnes, the world grain harvest in 1994 was up 2.9 percent from the depressed 1993 harvest of 1 697 million tonnes. World grain production (mainly wheat, corn and rice) has shown an upward trend over the years with the exception of slight fluctuations in some years, mainly owing to drought and other natural disasters (Foster, 1992). World meat production has shown an increasing trend at 184 million tonnes in 1994, up from 177 million tonnes in 1993. The impressive gain in overall meat output boosted per caput production to 33 kg, the highest ever achieved. Pork continued to widen its lead over beef as the world's most popular meat, while poultry production continued to be by far the most dynamic subsector of the meat industry. These production increases are consequences of improvements in income levels, since meat becomes a more important component in diets as incomes increase (Rozelle, Huang and Rosegrant, 1996).

Thus, more food is being produced today than before. Based on current trends and improved agricultural technology, world aggregate food production will be sufficient to meet demand in the decades ahead. By 2010 it is anticipated that world food supplies will be adequate to feed the world's population. Right now there are viable alternative technologies in agriculture to secure the world food supply. Howard Hjort, Deputy Director-General of FAO, observed that it is possible to increase agricultural efficiency without environmental degradation. He suggested that this may be accomplished through better research, more effective education and training, improved access to markets and more ecologically suitable farming practices (Interpaks, 1996). However, despite the availability of viable technologies to increase food and agricultural production, economic and social progress is still expected to be uneven among countries. This is because many of the poor countries are unable to be self-sufficient in food and agricultural production owing to various economic, social and political constraints.


Hunger, which usually follows food shortages, is caused by a complex set of events and circumstances (social, economic and political factors) that differ depending on the place and time. Alhough hunger has been a part of human experience for centuries and a dominant feature of life in many low-income countries, the causes of hunger and starvation are not very well understood. Our understanding of the main causes of hunger and starvation has been hampered by myths and misconceptions about the interplay between hunger and population growth, land use, farm size, technology, trade, environment and other factors.

Population growth and land use

There is a myth that the hunger and malnutrition afflicting many of the populations of poor nations are the direct result of their rapid population growth and the persistence of traditional agricultural technologies. This implies that, if population increases were to be curbed and modern technologies widely adopted, the problem would disappear. However, the population explosion is not the main cause of hunger and malnutrition, even though it exacerbates the situation. The growth of global food and agricultural production has been faster than the unprecedented population growth of the past 40 years. The hungry suffer from a lack of food security caused mainly by poverty (Reutlinger and Sclowsky, 1986). Poverty and rapid population growth are positively correlated. Where per caput income increases, population growth declines and vice versa. In other words, the higher the incidence of poverty, the higher the population growth and consequently more people are afflicted by hunger and malnutrition. That means, poverty, rather than population growth, is the leading cause of hunger and malnutrition. It is also evident that most of the people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition live in the poorest parts of the world (particularly South Asian and sub-Saharan African countries) where unemployment is high, income distribution is skewed and standards of living are low, thus reinforcing the obvious connection between hunger and poverty and not between hunger and population growth.

Likewise, scarcity of agricultural land is not the primary cause of food shortages although it does exacerbate the problem. There is adequate arable land for cultivation and food production in the world. A lack of arable land for food and agricultural production is not the cause of hunger and starvation. For instance, Bangladesh has just half the number of people per cultivated hectare than has Taiwan Province of China. Yet Taiwan does not have starvation and malnutrition to the extent that it is found in Bangladesh. Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sudan, Mozambique and Bangladesh have adequate arable land for food and agricultural production, but they have been thought of as the countries worst hit by hunger and starvation for many years. China has twice as many people for each cultivated hectare as India. Yet people in China do not suffer from hunger to the extent that they do in India. With the largest population, at least 1.15 billion, China remains self-sufficient in food and agricultural products and produces grain and meat in large quantities for the domestic and world markets (Rozelle, Huang and Rosegrant, 1996; Lappe and Collins, 1977).

Technology in food production

It is often assumed that world food shortages can be eliminated by increasing food and agricultural production through the application of modern technology. It is also argued that supplying modern inputs such as large-scale irrigation, chemical fertilizers, farm machinery and pesticides can improve the productive capacity of the land. However, when a new agricultural technology enters a system characterized by unequal power relationships, it brings greater profits only to those who already have some combination of land, finance resources, creditworthiness and political influence.

For example, a research study completed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that in the south Asian countries (Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia), where the focus was on increased agricultural production and where the gross national product (GNP) has risen, the majority of the rural population were worse off than ever before (Lappe and Collins, 1977). Another example is an agricultural development programme, sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency and implemented in Chilalo district of Ethiopia (Gebremedhin, 1976). The main objective of the programme was to introduce new technology by improving the traditional agricultural implements, seeds and human skills. The result was an increase in agricultural production. However, 75 percent of the farmers were landless tenants. The land was owned by the landlords who lived in the country's capital and who evicted the tenants from the land when they realized that the increased farm income as the result of new and improved technology was accruing to the tenants.

Hunger is a much more complicated phenomenon than can be rectified by expanding agricultural production, although, in most instances, expanding agricultural output is a necessary condition. This is true because issues concerning hunger reach the heart of the nations' political economies. The key obstacle to alleviating hunger is that the rural poor population in most developing countries, who depend and live primarily on local agricultural production, exercise little control over the prices they receive and the productive resources they need for efficient production. When the control of resources is in the hands of the actual farmers and tenants rather than in the hands of absentee landlords, the farmers are likely to make efficient use of their land. When farmers own land and work for themselves, they have the motivation to work hard to make the land more productive.

The structure of agricultural production has also created an impediment for increased food production. The increasing dependence of the food supply on stocks of fossil energy, which are being rapidly depleted, is frequently ignored by economists and agronomists in their praise of the achievements of technological progress in food and agricultural production. Improved technology cannot substitute for a shortage of essential natural resources, but it can help in making better use of those resources. There has been insufficient research on appropriate technologies adapted to the agroclimatic condition of many developing countries. New technology can have positive effects on the methods of food and agricultural production only if the consequences for the existing farming systems and socio-economic situations are well understood through research. Moreover, maximizing yields through modern, intensive technologies usually requires imported capital, which is a very scarce resource in poverty-stricken countries. Even if agricultural production increases as a result of new technology, most of the output will go to pay for the imported capital.

Farm size and credit services

The disparities in the availability of institutional support systems in the distribution of services between large and small farmers work to the disadvantage of the latter. Since large farmers are conventionally considered to be more productive than small farmers, the large landholders are provided with public subsidies and credit facilities. Small farm operators are usually disqualified from farm credit loans because of their disadvantaged economic condition and the generally conservative lending practices of financial institutions. Small farmers have low equity positions and can offer little security, which implies a high cost for lenders. Lending institutions often limit small farm operators' access to the capital market by imposing rigid rules on lending in order to protect the loan capital. Small farmers are often excluded from the modern marketing process and have high input costs relative to large farmers because they lack bargaining power and do not buy farm inputs in bulk.

In addition, tradition plays a large role in the production system in developing countries. Agricultural and extension service systems consistently fail to serve the majority of small farmers effectively - especially in developing countries. This is partly because small farmers lack the formal channels to communicate their needs and ideas to the public sector (Interpaks, 1996). New technology is very slow in replacing old techniques. One reason why new technology is not adopted is because small farm systems are so highly diverse and location-specific. Public institutions cannot afford to adapt appropriate technologies to each local set of circumstances. Instead, they rely on blanket recommendations, and this causes small farmers to lose confidence in public agricultural research services (Interpaks, 1996). Furthermore, the ownership and control of land and technology as well as distribution mechanisms are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few individuals in developing countries. Thus, because of an increase in land concentration, many landowners are converted into landless agricultural labourers, and the rural communities where these people live are dying as a result. The dual process of increasing land concentration and mechanization means that small landholders, landless tenants and farm labourers have been cut out of the food and agricultural production system - and to be cut out of the agricultural production system means to have less food to support one's family.

Import-export balance

Another misconception about the causes of world food shortages is that a developing country may not be fully exploiting its natural endowment to produce and export crops to acquire foreign exchange for importing food and industrial goods. However, in many developing countries, structural adjustment programmes have tried to promote agricultural exports at the expense of basic food needs. The people who exploit the natural resources and produce agricultural exports are not the poor farmers who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. The people who need food are not the same people who benefit from foreign exchange earned by agricultural exports. Even when part of the foreign earnings are used to import food, the food is not basic staples, but items geared to the eating habits of the better-off urban dwellers (comparable with eating habits in advanced countries). Given the projections of future resource availability and population growth in the developing countries, it is impossible for them to try to achieve the same standards of living as Europe and the United States. According to research studies (Pimentel et al., 1994), each person in the United States consumes about 23 times more goods and services than the average person in developing countries. The high levels of prosperity and quality of life in the United States and Europe have been achieved through an excessive consumption of natural resources. However, these basic resources are finite and are not available in unlimited supplies in any country of the world.

Developing countries have not created economic incentives to produce enough food for domestic consumption as well as extending agricultural production for export because they lack the necessary means of production, and they have failed to promote food security by applying measures necessary to raise productivity, yields and storage capacity. For example, in many sub-Saharan African countries, food self-sufficiency declined steadily during the 1980s and producers of food crops were hit hard by cheap imports. Many governments find it more expedient and economically advantageous to import food to cover deficits of staples than to make the necessary investments to increase domestic production and redistribute real incomes in favour of the poor. Because of embedded structural dependency relationships, these government decisions are reinforced by a confluence of interests of the local élite with those of foreign investors and international financial institutions (Danaher, 1994; Barraclough, 1977).

Environmental issues

Poverty and environmental degradation are closely linked, often in a self-perpetuating negative spiral in which poverty accelerates environmental degradation and degradation results in or exacerbates poverty. While poverty is not the only cause of environmental degradation, it does pose the most serious environmental threat in many low-income countries (Pimentel et al., 1994). This problem is compounded because many millions of people, who live near the subsistence minimum, have to exploit natural resources with inappropriate technologies in order to survive. The very success of export-oriented agriculture undermines both the position of the poor as well as the environment. When commodity prices rise, small self-providing farmers are pushed on to marginal land by cash crop producers seeking to profit from the higher commodity prices. For example, when the stabilization policies designed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) caused severe hardship and economic crisis for millions of people in Africa, the landless poor tried to survive by farming the marginal lands. The result has been serious deforestation and soil erosion (Danaher, 1994). In Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, small farmers are striving for survival on steep mountain sides liable to extensive erosion, while extensive sugar plantations and cattle ranches are located in the coastal plains and fertile valleys.

Generally, it is not only the quest for increased food production that threatens to destroy the environment, the damage to the environment is often inflicted by commercial cropping patterns of corporate farms who export non-food crops while forcing the rural majority to eke out a meagre living on marginal lands. Thus, unless there is concerted action to increase productivity rapidly, many of the subsistence farmers already living on the verge of poverty will be moving into marginal lands, which will cause a considerable amount of resource degradation and lead to environmental damage and global warming.

Food distribution and market control

The major constraints inherent in the market conditions of most developing countries are small market size, poor infrastructure for transport and storage of goods, a small and weak private sector and limited access to information. Food shortages become a severe problem in the developing countries because a lack of effective local production and the market structure continue to be major constraints that are creating great confusion and disorder in food marketing and distribution. However, the distribution of food is but a reflection of the control of the resources that produce food. The common threat to the production and distribution of the most basic human need, food, is the tightening control of wealth and power worldwide. The marketing, processing and production of agricultural products entering national and international trade are becoming increasingly integrated, vertically and horizontally. The control of farm products such as sugar, wheat, meat, feedgrains, cotton, dairy products and fruits that are sold in large local cities or abroad is generally concentrated in the hands of relatively few financial groups. Once this integration is achieved, multinational corporations are able to manipulate the supply and prices on a worldwide basis through well-established monopoly practices. The net result is to reinforce the structural dualism in agriculture and to accentuate the deeply embedded dependency relationships reflected in economic, financial and political structures (Ndiaye, 1994; Barraclough, 1977).


The misconceptions regarding food and hunger stated above have made it difficult for policy-makers to understand clearly the relationships among hunger, food production, poverty and development. Hunger is not just related to food production; it is closely linked to poverty and a lack of economic development. The persistence of widespread hunger and malnutrition underscores the futility of increasing production without addressing the underlying social, political and economic structures that make or keep people poor and hungry. One must obviously look beyond climate, farm size, land use, population growth, technology and trade in order to understand the long-term trends in food consumption, production and distribution. Local government policies have exacerbated domestic food shortages, poverty and income disparities in developing countries.

Local government policies

Development policies and strategies in most developing countries are often based on wishful thinking and rhetoric rather than on an understanding and analysis of complex, real-life situations because there is a lack of insight and reliable information. The root cause of problems can often be traced to policies prescribed by international bureaucracies and forced on the developing countries. When large numbers of African countries became independent, developing their economies was their avowed prime objective, but the results were very limited. One of the major factors that have hindered their development endeavours has been their failure to adopt the right policies at the right time in accordance with the objective reality in each country. This is because the majority of African leaders have long developed a colonial mentality and lost the virtue of self-confidence over the long years of colonial rule. This entrenched attitude has influenced their government policies and administration and made them heavily dependent on their former colonizers even after attaining political independence (Ministry of Information and Culture, 1997).

Economic and agricultural policies in many African countries have adversely affected investment in agricultural production and marketing. For example, research evidence (Smith, 1991) indicates that inappropriate government policies have become a major barrier to increased food security and economic development in many sub-Saharan African countries. The poor farmers, who bear the greatest burden of misguided government policy measures in many African countries, have responded rationally to damaging agricultural policies by turning to private market alternatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, the failures of agricultural policies in Somalia, Ethiopia and the United Republic of Tanzania quickly became apparent in declining output and productivity and a growing inability of these countries to feed their own people. In Kenya, small-scale coffee growers withdrew from government-sponsored ventures that proved to be economically unattractive. Some of the farmers shifted their land into other productive and useful purposes and others simply migrated out of the agricultural sector into other sectors where economic opportunities were greater. In Senegal, when the government reduced the controlled price for groundnuts to below the world market price, farmers shifted out of groundnut production into the production of food crops. In the Sudan, farmers responded to higher taxes on cotton production by shifting their product mix into basic food crops (Hammond and McGowan, 1994; Ndiaye, 1994; Danaher, 1994). These examples reveal the rational behaviour and resourcefulness of farmers in the sub-Saharan African countries, even in the face of oppressive government agricultural policies. In many of these poor countries the major barriers to agricultural growth and development were the misguided and inappropriate agricultural policies (Poulson, 1994; Smith, 1991). To this effect, the removal of government or non-market institutions when they distort markets and food security may be a prerequisite to the evolution of free-market institutions that allow an efficient allocation of resources for increased food and agricultural production. Appropriate policy reform is a high priority because it is a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for development in low-income countries.

International development programmes

The bilateral and multilateral organizations that provide policy advice on and finance for international rural development have had a profound influence on the developing countries during the past two to three decades; in fact, since many of these countries became independent. Such organizations make certain policy interventions as a direct precondition for loan effectiveness. However, this activity ignores the fact that, in most developing countries, the constraints on development are not caused by economic factors but by political problems, institutional weaknesses and low levels of social awareness, education and health care. The latter constraints have frequently been totally ignored. Nowadays, decision-making is dominated or influenced by international organizations through expatriates with very limited technical and socio-cultural expertise and insight concerning developing countries.

Development is a term that means something distinctly different to those being developed and those doing the developing. The economic structure of poor countries, particularly African countries, had been developed not to feed their own people, but to meet the import needs of developed countries. Sudan, Africa's largest country, is a good example of the kind of development that has made Africa a site of recurring famine and unpayable debt. Although never wealthy, the Sudanese had maintained the ability to feed themselves for centuries. When the Sudan became independent in 1956, Britain encouraged the new government to grow cotton in order to supply British textile mills. Using the latest agricultural technology, with the help of the British, the Sudan developed huge cotton-growing schemes on its most fertile land. Two things happened: over time, the world market price of cotton fell and the country's supply of foreign currency plummeted. Since agricultural resources were tied up in cotton, basic food production kept declining steadily. With few foreign earnings, the Sudan had to take out loans to import food from abroad. The textile mills of Britain, however, still had a constant supply of cheap Sudanese cotton (Smith, 1991).

Ghana, a cocoa-producing country in Africa, is often held up by the World Bank as an example of a successful structural adjustment programme. Ghana first adopted a structural adjustment programme in 1983 and, by the late 1980s, the World Bank and IMF pointed to the growth of Ghana's cocoa as the chief agricultural export cash crop in the economic recovery programme. This was because cocoa was responsible for more than 70 percent of Ghana's export earnings. Unfortunately, the world market price of cocoa has been dropping steadily since the mid-1980s. As a result, Ghana's food self-sufficiency declined because most of the resources were used to produce cocoa instead of food products. It is estimated that about 46 percent of government expenditure in the agricultural sector has been invested in the cocoa industry, but cocoa farmers comprise only 18 percent of Ghana's farming population. Land, power and wealth within cocoa-producing communities have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few rich farmers. Currently, the top 7 percent of Ghana's cocoa producers own almost half of the land cultivated with cocoa, while 70 percent own farms of less than 2.4 ha (Hammond and McGowan, 1994). When the misguided cocoa programme did not work out, the World Bank advocated and the government agreed to an emphasis on large-scale commercial fishing. Local fishermen who were unable to obtain credit and compete in the industry were squeezed out. Cheap fish, the primary source of protein for Ghana's people, began to disappear from local markets, as fish was directly exported abroad by the rich fishermen. Since Ghanaians obtain 60 percent of their protein from fish and fish by-products, the decrease in fish consumption resulting from higher prices has contributed to increased rates of malnutrition in the country (Hammond and McGowan, 1994; Smith, 1991).

There is ample evidence that international development programmes have also failed in many other African countries. Since 1980 Africa has received billions of dollars as aid through development programmes, yet Africa today produces less food and has more hungry people. It is no coincidence that over the last decades, some of the largest recipients of United States and former Soviet aid in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia and Angola, have been nations where war, famine and hunger are most common. At best, the aid programmes of the past were not very effective; at worst, they have been part of the problem. Development aid has often helped destroy people's ability to feed themselves. Offers of food aid pour in, but obtaining financial resources for rehabilitation is usually difficult. Dumping food as relief aid has not solved development problems in Africa (Smith, 1991). On top of this, food aid that was extended by the developed countries, following devastating famines caused by civil strife and natural calamities, has adversely affected Africans' capacity to deal with their problems. Generally, food aid programmes have introduced a harmful spirit of submissiveness and dependency into the poor societies and inefficiency and corruption into the governments of developing countries. Many government agencies and non-governmental organizations that have brought aid packages to Africa have long been instructing African leaders about what to do and what not to do, both in politics and economics (Ministry of Information and Culture, 1997).

National debts

An unbearable debt burden is accumulating in a large number of developing countries around the world and the misery and hunger caused by this huge debt are difficult to accept. Thirty governments in sub-Saharan Africa have been pressured by IMF and the World Bank into implementing structural adjustment programmes in order to acquire loans for development. These poor countries are made to pay their debts by surrendering the bulk of their export earnings, leasing out valuable resources at throw-away prices to earn extra income and sacrificing social and environmental considerations to earn enough to repay their debts.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa owe more money today than they did 10 to 20 years ago. In fact, in 1992 Africa's external debt had reached US$290 billion, about 2.5 times greater than in 1980 (Danaher, 1994). In the sub-Saharan African countries alone total debt increased from US$6 billion in 1970 to US$243 billion in 1994 (Gebremedhin, 1996). In other words, one year of these countries' GDP would perhaps still not be enough to pay their total debt. The big question is why the lending institutions (the World Bank, IMF and others) let this unbearable debt accrue. As a result of misguided government policies and the failure of international organization-sponsored development programmes, most of the poorest countries in Africa are now too risky for any kind of loan procurement. They have reached the point where they cannot take out loans because they cannot pay their debts. Consequently, many of the low-income countries continue to experience serious debt-related problems, particularly hunger and malnutrition. With regard to the devastating effect of the national debt, as early as 1988, the United Nations concluded: "The most vulnerable population groups, in particular women, youth, the disabled and the aged, have been severely and adversely affected" (Danaher, 1994). Thus, poverty, misguided local government policies and international development programmes have a lot to do with the existing conditions and situations in Africa. Moreover, these poor countries will remain under a crushing load for ever if a reasonable solution is not found immediately to alleviate poverty and ensure food security.


The world has ample food supplies and production is increasing, yet many poor countries and millions of poor people do not share in this abundance. There is widespread agreement that a leading cause of hunger and malnutrition is poverty. Even though poverty alleviation and food security has long been recognized as one of the core challenges facing humanity, yet today there are probably more human beings suffering from chronic deprivation than ever before in history. One of the problems of poor countries is a lack of purchasing power among the poorest segments of the population. Purchasing power is made up of a combination of income and the price of goods and services purchased. Since income distribution in poor countries is skewed towards the high end of the scale, it is difficult for the poor to purchase adequate food supplies. Thus, poverty will remain deep-rooted among the 65 percent of the world population (Foster, 1992). In addition, there has been relatively little motivation on the part of agricultural establishments and international organizations to examine fully the complex nexus of social situations and economic conditions that underlie the real needs of developing countries. Since international organizations and agricultural establishments have a profound influence on the development of poor African countries, it seems more logical to seek a long-lasting solution to the present ills of these countries than to dwell on world food programmes.

Economic development is more than economic growth. It entails meeting basic human needs, i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education and health services. Alleviating poverty and ensuring food security should be the criteria for alleviating hunger and malnutrition. Long-term solutions to food shortages and economic development in low-income countries, therefore, will require profound social, political and economic changes. In spite of the formidable difficulties of achieving such changes by deliberate government policy, particularly in market-type economies, evidence is accumulating to show what can be achieved, even in less developed countries. The long-term solution to poverty and world food shortages is to be found in the distribution of control over food-producing resources and in encouragement of poor countries to institute, at the grassroots level, sustainable development that is people-oriented and self-reliant as well as socially just, economically efficient and ecologically sound (SID, 1988).

It is evident that food production needs to be increased very rapidly by alleviating poverty. Unless there are dramatic new approaches to bringing about collaboration on a much larger scale, the problems of food security and resource degradation in poor countries will be considerable and ever lasting. It should be realized that poverty is no longer a problem contained within the borders of the developing world alone. It has substantial effects on domestic policies, international markets and world peace. We live in a world of interdependence, which has inevitable political and economic dimensions because boosting agricultural production in developing countries can stimulate commercial trade for developed countries. In addition, security and peace for developed countries also depend on peace and stability in the developing countries.


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