Being brought up on food aid in northern Kenya, I knew hunger as a long-term unwelcome guest. There, the UN World Food programme estimates that there are 1.1 million undernourished people who require more than 45,201 metric tons of food between March and August 2013. This has declined from 2.1 million in 2012. But despite this dramatic decline, there is little reason to celebrate.
The majority of those affected live in the northern part of the country. It is a dominantly arid and semi-arid region prone to droughts and, as a consequence, hunger. Turkana County, in northwest Kenya where I was born and raised, is one of these areas. There, 60 per cent of its population of 855,349 depend on nomadic pastoralism. Livestock keeping, has been a story of resilience and a survival of droughts for over 50 years.
For Turkana pastoralists, livestock is their bank, savings account, supermarket and insurance. Their survival is interdependent with the fragile environment. However, since the 1960s, drought has disrupted their lives and livelihoods. Growing up in Turkana, and for as far back as I can remember, I have witnessed drought wipe out our family herd in a day. During droughts, livestock is lost and valuable assets vanish. Drought has continued to undermine their right to food, health, education and housing for five decades.
Today, half of Turkana’s population is heavily dependent on food relief aid. Though the solution to the problem of drought to save lives has always been food aid, it remains a threat to food production and undermines the ability of those affected by drought to rebuild their livelihoods by producing their own food or accumulating livestock.
Ironically, according to Kenya Food Security Steering Group, which brings together Government agencies, UN, NGOs and key development partners, Kenya expects to spend US$52.5 million on food assistance for the 1.1 million food insecure population. This is five times what is spent on agriculture ($10.8m) in the same period (March-August 2013), while the livestock sector, spends a meagre US$3.6million. Yet, the majority of those affected by hunger are pastoralist communities in the northern region who keep livestock. This means Kenya spends more funding on food aid than building resilience of communities to improve long-term sustainable food security. Helping the Turkana to invest in sustainable pastoralism and smallholder agriculture would help the whole community.
But there is another threat to this sensible plan, waiting in the wings. Land grabbing by corporations from the developed world remains a threat to food production and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past ten years, an area of land the size of Wales has been sold off to foreign investors every thirty-seven days. Thousands of farmers, including nomadic pastoralists are being moved off the land to pave way for elite hunting companies, large sugarcane and biofuel plantations in Africa. Women, who represent 60-80 per cent of small scale farmers, often have their rights to land denied.
The Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign is calling for an end to this injustice. With additional funding support, rural women, who are the majority smallholder farmers and food producers in sub-Saharan Africa will put nutritious food on their tables and help children see their fifth birthday and live longer. It’s a straightforward proposal – If we act to ensure small-scale farmers – women and men – can keep hold of their land to grow food, then the world has a chance to end the scandal of hunger.
This year in December, Kenya celebrates 50 years of independence. But the people of Turkana will celebrate a jubilee of droughts, hunger and malnutrition. As a living victim and witness of drought in Turkana, the invisible struggle of people like Turkana to survive has always inspired me to find an answer to the problem of drought, poverty and hunger in my homeland.
In the next two weeks, the G8 countries will be meeting in Northern Ireland. This is a big chance to tackle hunger and save millions of lives. Tax is already a key agenda point for this Summit. I urge the UK, the G8 president this year, and member countries to take moral responsibility and commit their financial promises to developing countries.
This will help fast track the achievement of ending extreme poverty by 2015. This will ensure that poor and vulnerable groups such as women and children will not die of hunger and suffer from malnutrition. This is a human tragedy, with a clear moral imperative for world leaders to act to ensure that the global food system functions effectively. The G8 can make a huge contribution to global efforts to tackle hunger.
Today is world hunger day. Let’s look forward to celebrating the time when we no longer need to mark such an event.
Join thousands in Hyde Park at the Big IF Rally on 8 June and demand action on hunger. Book your travel from Wales here. One eighth of the world’s population live in extreme hunger and poverty and exist on less than 80 pence a day – that’s 870 million people. Hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Two million are children die each year because of chronic persistent hunger.