Sub-Saharan Africa is pretty much synonymous with hunger and poverty. Ever wondered why? The Dark Continent is rich in resources; plenty of mineral wealth, timber, beautiful country attractive to tourism, and some of the world’s richest farmlands. So why are the African nations poor and starving? Here’s a possible explanation. Excerpt:
With every last bit of fertile land spoken for, Uganda’s only path out of mass hunger is intensification—getting more food out of the same amount of ground. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, high-yield varieties of wheat and rice revolutionized agriculture in Asia and Latin America, freeing up to a billion people from chronic hunger. But the Green Revolution skipped Africa. I had come to Uganda to try to figure out why.
Nakkede’s laboratory gives me my first clue. Ensuring that farmers have access to good seed should be at the forefront of Uganda’s fight against hunger, and a sample of each lot of agricultural seed produced in the country is supposed to be tested here. But the lab barely functions at all.
Is insufficient funding the problem? Not quite. Expensive-looking machinery is all around us. Yet none of it, I slowly realize, is plugged into the wall.
“Oh, yeah,” an aid official tells me days later. “All the equipment at the Kawanda lab is fried.”
Between 2003 and 2008, a $1.9 million project by the Danish International Development Agency fully equipped this lab and trained staff to work here. But blackouts are frequent in Uganda. When the power comes back it often returns with a surge, and the Danes apparently forgot to put surge protectors in the budget. As a result, Danish taxpayers have paid top dollar for a collection of finely engineered paperweights.
The Danes were just one of a string of donors to come in, commission an assessment of Uganda’s food security problems, zero in on seed quality, and spend a lot of money on “technical assistance,” only to see virtually no bang for the development buck. Writing for the World Bank, the agricultural economist James Joughin reviewed 20 substantive studies of the Ugandan seed industry conducted between 2003 and 2013. Everybody who is anybody in African development has done one: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the African Development Bank, the European Union, the United Nations, and various NGOs and academics.
“The reports invariably recommend how to repair these problems,” Joughin concludes. “Rarely do they ask why earlier recommendations have not been acted upon.”
The problem here is threefold:
No security in private property rights. Farmers can grow crops, but there is no guarantee they will be able to sell them.
- Rampant corruption due to a failure of rule of law. The kind of fraud described in the story is a long-standing legacy of Africa, but there’s no reason that should be the case.
- Extensive subsidies for agriculture in the Western nations, which artificially depresses crop prices and denies African farmers access to world markets.
Western-style republican government with robust rule of law and free, unfettered markets can fix Africa. Probably nothing else can.