The United Nations (UN) has called for $5.6 billion in donations to fight a famine that threatens over 20 million people in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. In Nigeria alone, upwards of 5 million people face acute food shortages.
In a country of over 170 billion people, there are fewer than 5,000 tractors.
Considering the progress Nigeria has made in food security since the 1980s, the country’s placement on the list is disheartening. While the UN’s efforts might bring temporary relief, the root causes of this famine must be addressed to prevent similar crises in the future. Boko Haram might be partly responsible for this crisis, but the reality is that Nigeria’s famine is worsened by protectionist policies that restrict agricultural trade and force Nigerians to depend on insufficient domestic food production.
Restricted Food Imports
In 1983, Nigeria averaged less than 2,000 calories per person per day. By 1998, Nigeria had caught up to the global average of over 2,630 calories. However, food production has dropped in recent years because Nigerian agriculture is stuck in the past. In a country of over 170 billion people, there are fewer than 5,000 tractors. Traditional small scale farming permeates the food production In Nigeria. Small plots a couple of hectares in size account for 90 percent of domestic food production. With a growing population, such small-scale production has become insufficient.
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The American Congress recently passed the bipartisan Global Food Security Act, a $7 billion dollar project aimed at bolstering efforts to end hunger, malnutrition and poverty across the globe. Sounds noble, but this Act will most certainly not improve global food security, especially in Africa, because it fails to address a fundamental cause of food insecurity in the developing world: US agricultural subsidies.
If President Obama really wants to fix world hunger, he’d do well to truly liberalize American agriculture by removing subsidies for wealthy farmers. It has been well documented by the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and numerous experts that subsidies go against the principles of free trade. They lead to “international dumping” – where products from developed countries are sold to consumers in developing countries at unfairly low prices that force out domestic producers.
Extensive economic studies show that it is wealthy farmers who benefit from subsidies, not poor ones.
As the global economic order currently stands, African farmers – and their governments – cannot compete with billions worth of American protectionism on essential crops such as tobacco, cotton, corn and rice. Since the 1950s, the IMF and World bank mandated that African governments liberalize their economies with Structural Adjustment Policies in order to qualify for loans. As a result, many of these countries can neither afford to subsidize their own farmers, nor can they put import duties on foreign produce. In other words, they simply cannot stand a chance on the global marketplace.
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