You know sometimes we husbands don’t really have a choice when it comes to the rock of your home : your better half whom Adam referred to as “bone of my bone. This weekend, I headed to the market with the rock of my home hoping for a sabbatical from that peculiar type of people who never mind their own business and let husband and wife shop in peace. And as I hoped for the best, I also prepared for the worse just in case hell broke loose and demons presented themselves in the market equipped with their usual and quite familiar “hey Dr. Joseph, so you also frequent the market place like we bachelors do?” type of salutations. That was the last thing I even wanted to think of hearing! Many thanks to the gods who stopped naughty loquacious mouths, I never had the misfortune of such encounters. But something else happened and this is what has inspired me to write this piece.
It was last week when on my own volition (not a trace of duress), I decided to accompany my wife to the market to purchase quite some stuff for our kitchen and general home usage. And as I left home, I begun forming imaginary pictures of bemused and baffled male counterparts, looking at me and wondering just what the hell, I was doing at the market place. Interestingly and contrary to my expectations, I encountered fellow husbands walking side by side, holding hands with their wives as they smiled and shopped together! Was this Africa? But shock wasn’t done with me yet, from a close view, I could see relatively young men who were at the best guess dating or most preferably single. They too were here, not to buy the clothes they fancy these days or to just wander about in a lazy for-lack-of-what-to-do walk,no! These young men were actually buying food most of which had to be cooked before consumption.“Africa has really changed! This is a true transformation”. Truly, the general African perception about food and other home issues has tremendously undergone a significant metamorphosis into an all-inclusive process.
And with the shock still fresh in my mind and evidently aware that I was not the only “culprit”, I walked to a nearby stall owned by a mid-aged lady, who at the time of my arrival was somewhat lost in thoughts. I saluted her and introduced myself as a potential buyer, who was particularly interested in passion fruits and that information about the pricing would suffice in determining anticipated transaction. If I ever saw a pure undisturbed honesty, then it was on this day right there on the face of the lady as she informed me innocently that 1Kg of passion fruits goes for 3USD. That, by all standards was extremely for our local market rates, but, I decided to purchase the fruits nonetheless and proceeded to the next stall where I met another vendor dealing in tomatoes. This particular lady had a huge stock of tomatoes and was very busy signaling the presence of her quality goods to approaching customers. Yet despite all, I managed to start conversation with her from which I learnt that she and her colleagues lacked proper storage facilities for their commodities and that after every two or three days, especially when sales are down, they have to throw way some of the tomatoes which unfortunately rot and are rendered not fit for consumption. This last encounter encouraged me to walk around the market and do my own survey of the sort of needs assessment as we proceeded with the shopping. With our 300 USD spent, a lot of lessons learnt and many solutions crossing my mind, we slowly drove back home.
And now after much reflection, this is what I have to say;
If Africa cannot focus more on food production and double her efforts in promoting food production, food insecurity will hit Africa very badly. This is a problem that awaits us like a time bomb just waiting to explode sooner than we may think. I fear for a food problem, so gross in nature and deep in magnitude that it will prove more devastating and frightening than the current problems terrorism, insurgency, political instability in some Countries and the scourge of HIV and other diseases. It will be a menace- a total mess! Do we as African feel ashamed that 60% of the World’s farmable land is in Africa, and that it is here in Africa with naturally fertile soils, that pictures of emaciated bodies dying of hunger are no longer news? And that it is again here in our Continent where children spot inflated stomachs which are full of nothing but the disease of malnutrition? Until when shall diseases like Kwashiorkor and other related illnesses continue to rob us of our people?
Listen to me somebody!
As a people, we are beginning to accept the fact that access to food is our collective responsibility as can be seen on the various efforts we are making at individual and national levels. This is excellent! It is admirably commendable. It is encouragingly fantastic. But it is also dangerous! When everybody begins to appreciate the importance of fresh farm produce and engages in Agricultural endeavors that can only offer ephemeral solutions, we are only setting dangerous precedents. We must from the backs of our mothers and sisters, remove the burden of subsistence farming. We must commercialize our agriculture and boost our production or brace ourselves for the reality that the prices of such readily available fruits like passion fruit will continue to skyrocket.
African governments must adopt Green Revolution as a strategy to combat hunger and prevent future crises.The Agriculture sectors of our countries must undergo a paradigm shift from the current low productions to an agricultural environment which promotes productivity of land, strengthens the resilience of farmers to climate change (through introduction of viable crops), reward capital and labour invested in agriculture by ensuring that the current fluctuations in the price of farm produce is addressed and both domestic and international markets are made available for the farmers.
But this is not to treat the African Continent as a homogeneous entity. I am alive to the fact that in some African countries, production is not the problem but marketing and preservation of the produce from our farms. This brings me back to my reflections about the plight of the tomato vender, the lady who has had to throw away her goods due to lack of proper storage and preservation facilities.
How about if we began taking things seriously? What if our farmers were organized into manageable Cooperatives and assisted through loans and grants to boost their production? Is it possible that the problems of farmers which are typically represented by the situation of the ladies in my example be effectively addressed?
This is a question, the response to which I wish to hear from policy makers from across Africa, those who meet in fancy hotels to discuss hunger, who travel to the capitals to attend conferences about food production while intentionally forgetting about the real stakeholders and those who might read this piece and dismiss it as mere scare mongering.
Something must be done, food security is not negotiable.
Dr. Joseph R Nkurunziza is a Public health Expert and Social Justice Activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org