The Food Security Imperative: An Interview with Jean Bakole Bagambanya

Article excerpt

Our big problem is that we have not allocated enough land for food, and the land has not been distributed equitably, across the boundaries of race, tribe, gender. To solve this, we need land reform.

Jean Bakole Bagambanya is international representative of the Coalition of African Organizations for Food Security and Sustainable Development, a coalition of African non-governmental organizations. COASAD was created in 1996 and consists of 165 African organizations from 35 African countries, active in the fields of food production, nutrition and sustainable development. Bakole Bagambanya is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and holds a Masters Degree in Economic Development and another Masters in Population-Development-Environment Science, both from the University of Louvain in Belgium.

Multinational Monitor: What does the term "food security" mean?

Jean Bakole Bagambanya: A person has food security when they have access to food, the food needed for a healthy and balanced diet. We think of it in terms of food sovereignty -the capacity of each person to have this self-sufficiency, the ability to feed him or herself.

MM: Does your conception of food security apply to countries, or primarily to individuals?

Bakole Bagambanya: Yes, food security also encompasses and involves nation-states and regions. Again you come to the capacity of the nation to feed person by person.

To achieve national food security, a country's policies must be oriented toward feeding its population. If national policies do not enable a country to feed itself, or better yet, for the poor to feed themselves, the country is doomed.

Africa is a region where there is no food security. This is due to conflicting food policies, and to the general war situation in many African countries.

Eighty percent of the population in Africa is agrarian. But most African government policies, including agricultural policies, are not geared toward them. It is important not just to develop agronomy, but that these policies should comply to the needs of people themselves. We are not targeting agriculture per se, we are talking about agriculture for people.

To take an example from a different continent, consider Brazil. If there is a lack of food security in Brazil, it comes not from the feeding capacity of the country - which by any measure is sufficient to feed the population - but from the country's policy emphasis placed on an industrial system of agriculture.

Food security policies will encourage farmers to produce - to produce organically and sustainably. The food policy should orient itself to feeding individuals, otherwise it is an industrial system that does not guarantee the provision of a country's food and basic health needs.

We come back to the development of agriculture. Policies that benefit the majority of farmers, benefit not only farmers. They are sustainable policies, protecting a country's natural resource base and addressing the needs of people, rural and urban, to eat.

MM: What are the policies that conflict with food security in Africa?

Bakole Bagambanya: There are many policies that conflict with the attainment of food security in Africa.

The first problem is land use, a problem intertwined with land distribution and concentration. Only 60 percent of African lands are arable, the rest is not utilized.

Much of the arable land is used and occupied by cash crops. This land therefore does not furnish the food crops that are necessary to attain food security. These cash crops usually benefit the governments - who need foreign exchange that comes from selling these goods - or the multinationals who usually trade in tobacco, cotton, tea, cocoa and other cash crops.

Unfortunately, when you have extreme poverty conditions or drought conditions, you cannot turn to these crops and eat them.

In 1984, when African food security problems were at their worst, when much of sub-Saharan Africa was famished - people were dying out of hunger, not malnutrition - even then the continent was exporting around $285 million worth of agricultural goods. …