A Roundhouse Kick
World’s second-largest cocoa producer faces growing hunger
Rashid Abubakar Iddrisu grew up watching Hollywood action movies. Chuck Norris ones in particular, like Delta Force 2.
So yes, this week’s title is a reference to both Norris and the heaviness of the topic.
As you can probably guess from the name, it’s a sequel. The full name is Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection so if you think it’s about Chuck Norris taking on some Colombian drug lord, you’d be right.
From where Rashid sat, in the Sawla community in Ghana’s Savannah Region in the northwest, where agriculture and trade are the main livelihoods, and poverty and hunger are never too far away, it all looked exciting and aspirational.
He and many other youths thought this was how life was in Europe and America. He was also told there are riches to be made if you worked hard, like earning hundreds of dollars an hour. So he decided to try his luck.
His thinking was, “If I can earn $400 per hour and if I was working eight hours, 10 hours, I can have $4,000 a day. After two or three years I will have a lot of money and I’ll come home.”
“This was the perception that pushed me to leave my hometown,” he told me.
So he travelled through Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Libya, trying to get to Spain. After several tries, he finally made it after going through Morocco. But when he got to Spain, reality set in that he and many others in his community have been told a tall tale.
When he was finally able to work legally, his monthly salary was not much higher than what he dreamt of getting in an hour.
So in 2007, Rashid decided to set up CEHDA, a non-profit that would help Ghanians in Catalonia and back home. The organisation’s logo - a footprint - symbolises the need for migrants to come home so they can contribute to improving the situation and prevent the younger generation from having to leave in the first place.
CEHDA started by helping with the education and healthcare of children in need and teaching people how to farm sustainably. In Spain, they help migrants integrate socially and economically, including through an agroecological farm in Catalonia.
It’s all about collaboration and based on the needs at the grassroots level, Rashid said. The Catalan Agency for Development and International Cooperation funds CEHDA’s work on promoting ancestral knowledge linked to food systems and traditions.
For the past couple of years though, Rashid has been dealing with forces that are far beyond his control - changes in rainfall patterns that make it difficult for his community to farm, a spike in the costs of things like diesel and fertiliser that farmers need to grow their crops, and skyrocketing prices of food that have roiled both rich and poor nations across the globe.
“A lot of factors are contributing to the hunger and the hunger keeps increasing because every year we have less food production because of the decrease of the rain. And the prices of products are increasing every day,” he told me over a Zoom call one morning as he was readying for an outdoor breakfast in Sawla.
Ghana, a former British colony that has consistently been held up as one of the most politically and economically stable nations on the African continent, is the world’s second-largest cocoa producer, but hunger and poverty have always been relatively high in the north of the country.
This is mainly a result of chronic under-investment dating back to colonial rule, according to Iddrisu Mohammed Kambala, a Ghanaian PhD candidate in the University of South Carolina, who studied the north-south divide.
“The colonial state administered the north as a “periphery” and the south as a “core”. Colonial investments and expenditures in the north were kept at a bare minimum,” he wrote in a piece for The Conversation.
Combine that with “poor access to storage, transportation, and market infrastructure critical for ensuring rural households’ better food availability, access, and affordability beyond the harvesting season” and you get statistics that show nearly 1 in 4 or 1 in 2 people going hungry, even before the latest food price crisis hit, wrote Balikisu Osman, another Ghanaian PhD candidate studying at Canada’s York University.
Now the West African nation is facing its worst economic crisis in a generation and the hunger that used to afflict northern Ghana has marched south.
In Accra, Ghana’s capital, Elijah Amoo Addo’s Food for All Africa is not only providing much-needed meals to a growing population of people struggling to feed themselves but also acting as a one-stop shop to help people get back on their feet.
“What we have done for the past few months is to speak to some businesses like the construction sector, so when we go to the areas we are serving, we take the details of people we know are willing to do temporary jobs and connect them to these jobs for the time being.”
There is little government support for low-and-middle-income people so if the head of the household loses a job, it affects all members of the family, “so when we go in as a food bank to support the immediate situation, there is always the demand or need to provide that extra service of encouragement,” said Elijah.
The stories that Rashid, Elijah, and others have told me come from a story I co-wrote for The New Humanitarian with local reporter Jessica Ahedor and which came out this week. It’s part of the “Emerging Hunger Hotspots” series I’ve been coordinating for the past year.
We’ve now covered Sri Lanka, Peru, Egypt, Georgia, Argentina, and Ghana. I co-wrote and co-reported on all stories except Peru and the similarities are striking and deeply worrying. These countries may be on different continents but they are all struggling under the combined weight of multiple crises.
All of them are reliant on international trade, either as importers or exporters. They are also often heavily dependent on a single country or two for food imports so any turbulence in the global markets affects them. They are seeing shifts in climate that are threatening, if not already undermining, food production. Many are also deeply in debt and their currencies have plummeted.
Ghana is in the process of restructuring its debt but it is not the only one. A significant number of low- and middle-income countries are facing debt distress. I wrote about this a few weeks ago based on an IPES-Food report if you want to read more.
Before we dived into the numbers, let’s get a couple of things straight.
This latest report focuses on “acute food insecurity” which is severe hunger. It is often sudden and immediate and brought about by emergency situations like drought, war, and natural disasters, which require food aid.
These are people possibly on the verge of starvation and is based on internationally accepted measures of extreme hunger, such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé.
Then there is “chronic food insecurity” for which there are annual reports too. This is when people don’t have enough food for a prolonged period of time, which could then lead to malnutrition and serious intergenerational consequences that affect not only households but the development of countries and economies.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at the numbers, which are at its highest in the seven-year history of the report. Myanmar, my home country, is now on the top 10 list of nations with the highest numbers of people in the crisis phase or worse.
Rounding out the trio of concerning news is this report from the Global Information and Early Warning Systems (GIEWS) of the FAO, the UN’s food and agriculture agency, which said El Niño is forecast to return in the second half of 2023 after three years in a row of the cooling La Niña event.
What does that mean? Possible relief for some drought-afflicted areas such as the Horn of Africa, but it could spell trouble for Southern Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia, according to GIEWS.
El Niño, which typically happens every two to seven years, is “a key driver of extreme weather events that pose high risks to global food security”, warned the report. It also suggested actions in preparation for droughts and floods as well as cross-cutting actions that can boost resilience.
“Catalysed by a warming of Pacific Ocean waters, El Niño has a major influence on temperature and precipitation patterns over many parts of the world, driving extreme weather events including drought, flooding and storms,” said the FAO in a press release, adding that the El Niño episode of 2015-2016 affected more than 60 million people in around 23 countries.
Now, rainfall may bring relief to the Horn of Africa, which has been suffering from four years of unprecedented drought, but excessive precipitation following severe dryness often lead to flash floods, so let’s hope that does not happen.
“Australia, Brazil and South Africa, all major cereal producers and exporters, are among the countries at risk of dry conditions. The inverse risk of excessive rainfall holds for exporters such as Argentina, Turkey and the United States of America,” the FAO said.
Three Good Reads
All linked to Ghana and ahem, a bit of self-promotion.
Soaring prices and dwindling farm yields drive growing hunger in Ghana - The New Humanitarian
Why farmers in northern Ghana go to bed hungry - The Conversation