Banishing the begging bowl

In an article first published in The Guardian of London, Nigerian President and chairperson of the New Partnership for Africa's Development Olusegan Obasanjo warns that ridding Africa of hunger is the key to long-term development.

In an article first published in The Guardian of London, Nigerian President and chairperson of the New Partnership for Africa's Development Olusegan Obasanjo warns that ridding Africa of hunger is the key to long-term development.

There is a pain in the belly of Africa. It is gnawing at our development goals and undermining our economies; yet somehow it is getting forgotten.

Hunger is the scourge of Africa and it is advancing, and consuming more lives today than ever before.

There is a saying in my country: when you take hunger out of poverty, poverty is halved. That is why it is crucial we give top priority to ridding ourselves of this blight on development.

In this year, when so much energy has been focused on the campaign to Make Poverty History and the Commission for Africa, we should remember that hunger and malnutrition continue to kill more people than HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Food is the stuff of life. Without it, free trade, debt relief and poverty alleviation will mean little to the Africans who are far from the gaze of the developed world.

We should not forget that the first of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is that there be a firm commitment by governments to "eradicate the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty and hunger in which hundreds of millions of people continue to live".

The grim reality we face today is that, while global poverty dropped by 20 percent during the 1990s, the number of hungry people rose. The global hungry are part of a growing underclass that has no access to social services and the market economy. In the latter half of the decade about five million more people became hungry every year. Today, this number stands at 852 million.

While there is evidence of slow progress towards making poverty history, the underclass is growing and the world is losing ground in its bid to halve the proportion of those who suffer from hunger by 2015.

As chairperson of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, I have called for collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) to strengthen agriculture and research, and share best practice to increase output drastically. In addition, savings from debt and debt servicing can go into these sectors that directly benefit the people.

The WFP has put a price on what it would cost to eradicate hunger among the 300 million children who live with it -- US$5 billion, if targeted at improving nutrition for the neediest 100 million children, could have a seismic impact.

The plan foresees a partnership between rich and poor nations, so developing nations would be encouraged to play their part, contributing food to the value of US$2 billion to meet the needs of women and children. For its part, the developed world would be expected to provide the balance of US$3 billion.

When I think of Africa today, it reminds me of Oliver Twist. It is unacceptable that Africa might be forced, once again, to go to the top table at Gleneagles and say: "Please, sir, I want some more." It does not have to be that way. In partnership, we have the opportunity to conquer these challenges to development in Africa and beyond.

copyright Guardian Newspapers 2005