Food Shortages


There are many causes of food shortages in Africa. Usually a combination of war, debt, dependence on cash crop production, population growth, land ownership, political problems and the climate means that large groups of people do not have access to enough food to ensure that a healthy standard of living can be maintained.


War makes it difficult to produce food and transport it to those who are most in need. In countries such as the Sudan, people find it difficult to meet their need for food because of civil war. The north of Sudan is controlled by an Islamic government, which wants the whole country to follow Muslim laws. However, Christians who do not wish to follow the laws of religion that they do not believe in control the south of Sudan. Since the 1970s, more than one million people have been killed in this civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian South.


War causes food shortages because the government spends money on weapons with little kept aside to meet the needs of the people. In the Sudan, little is spent on education or health. This means that conditions in the country are unlikely to improve and many people die from preventable diseases. Many people are frightened by the war and think it would be much safer to leave the country and become refugees in neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Chad. However, when people are forced to leave the land, they have no means of supporting themselves and have to live in camps where food is provided for them.


Sometimes there is simply not enough food to feed all of the people in the refugee camps. When people leave the land, there is no one to look after the crops and they die. This means that there is less food for sale in the markets and more people will face food shortages.


In the 1970s, many African countries were encouraged to take out loans from rich banks in the North- Europe and North America. However, this money was not always used to meet the needs of the people. When interest rates increased, countries had to pay back even more which obviously resulted in a fall in expenditure on areas like education, health care and transport. The United Nations estimates that 19,000 children now die each day in the developing world because of debt. Some countries are concerned that they may never be able to pay back their loans. For every £1 that countries like the Sudan has borrowed, they have to pay back £13 because of interest and default payments. Debt causes food shortages because governments cannot afford to buy supplies for their people or ensure that more food is made available. Improvements such as better education or health care, better irrigation schemes or improved transport networks simply cannot be afforded.


Countries end up using any spare money to pay back debt. In some cases, countries have to use 20% of national income to pay back debt, it is estimated that Sudan’s debt is in excess of £15 billion. The 52 poorest countries now owe the rich hundreds of billions in unplayable debts and are spending more on debt than on health and education combined. Some countries are trying to cancel debt but many groups, such as Jubilee 2000, would argue that this is not happening quickly enough.


Many governments encourage the growth of cash crops, which can be sold to other countries (coffee, tea, sugar) rather than growing food to feed their own people. In the Sudan, people were encouraged to grow cotton and sugar and sell it to the rich countries of the world. The price that African farmers receive for their crops is usually well below what would he a fair price. For example, the price of coffee has not increased for 50 years. This makes it difficult for African farmers to earn enough money to buy food to feed their families. Farmers usually only have a small piece of land to grow cash crops which makes it difficult to meet their family’s needs and often results in under employment (not enough work for all the family members). In Tanzania, farmers may receive £7 a month for the coffee they produce. However, this wills only he enough to feed their families