18-25 January 2010
While working in the development sector, one keeps on hearing words such as poverty, livelihoods, food security and hunger so frequently that it all starts sounding like a rhetoric. This blog post is not based on any UN Millennium Development Goal or agenda of some development agency but whatever I have experienced here in Bongo and the thoughts I have on the issue.
I have heard stories about poverty and lack of availability of food from many old people. Though many Indians dream of their country becoming superpower, still in many parts of India, people do face hunger. The issue of hunger struck me greatly two years back, when we were conducting participatory situation analysis in tribal areas of southern Gujarat. People had classified the households in various wealth ranks and one of the criteria for determining the wealth rank was the availability of food.
I conducted the same exercise after coming over here in Bongo in some villages and the result was strikingly similar and the situation reported seems to be worse than the one reported in the southern Gujarat. The percentage of people facing food insecurity is double than that of India. The causes that were reported by the people were of course related with low agricultural production.
I think that it is a myriad maze of interrelated causes that are leading to this food insecurity. There seems to be a huge population explosion here with the families having 5-6 kids. The concept of family planning is virtually non existent. With low agricultural production, little opportunities for income generation in the area, feeding the families with enough food is a major problem in the area. In spite of that, as it was revealed in the discussion with the villagers, spending on social functions such as marriages and funerals and also the spending on alcohol is huge and together they eat up almost 50% of the income earned. Interestingly, total spending on social functions equalled to total expenditure on food.
Sight of food and people buying it is always an attraction here. A Solemiya (white person) like me, while in the market or open public eateries, always finds himself with some children as well as adults hanging around and asking for food. Walking on the road with some food in hand will result in open confrontation with some people asking for that particular food item in your hand. Of course it is impossible to give them free food; otherwise one will end up in swarms of people following you everyday.
Going hungry for a long time is something always heard here. A discussion which I had some school children about what and how they eat revealed that many of them go to school hungry with very little to eat in the morning. Most of them eat from previous day's leftovers and go to school. These days primary schools have a school feeding programme but there is no such programme for high schools. It will certainly be not right to expect these children going to the school hungry and still able to concentrate on their studies.
Generally, people from most of the food secure parts of India eat at least three meals a day i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here most of the people eat only two meals a day (breakfast and dinner) with third meal being mostly uncertain. This is the common scene even with the people who are food secure. It seems that most of the people here have adjusted to the hunger in some ways. When they eat, they eat in very large quantities and can go without food for a very long period in the day. The people who are very thin can be seen with eating huge bowls of food which I can not even imagine finishing in one go. I remember reading somewhere that due to frequent droughts faced by the people from sub Saharan Africa, they have developed some genetic ability to sustain periods of hunger for longer duration. Whether they have genetic ability or not, hunger can not be sustained beyond certain limit where it starts affecting functions of the body.
With all of these problems and results associated hunger discussed, it needs to be seen how well these issues are tackled in the grass roots. Compared to India, very little efforts can be seen in the rural parts of Northern Ghana. The impacts these programmes are having on the improvement in the situation is very little. There is good network of agricultural extension system but there is not much of improvement in the production and productivity of food crops. There is large number of NGOs working in this rural parts but they still have a very long way to go when it comes to poverty alleviation and reduction of hunger.
This is all happening when Ghana is considered as the most desired recipient of development aid amongst all the West African countries. I think that there is an important loophole in this thinking for development aid for mitigating hunger. When India became self sufficient in the food grain production and acute hunger problem was solved, they were talking of green revolution and adequate food supply. It might sound harsh but looking at hunger as some mean to seek aid will never solve the problem because if the problem is solved then one would lose the mean as well.