Your parents keep telling you to finish your dinner because "there are starving kids in Africa." Well, there are a lot of myths about why people in Africa go hungry, as well as false ideas behind the solutions. We asked the ONE Campaign to clarify. Below, the top 11 myths regarding agriculture in Africa.
- There is not enough food and too many people in the world, and that is why people are hungry.
Every year, enough food is grown worldwide to provide 4.3 pounds of food per person per day, which would include two and a half pounds of grain, beans, and nuts, a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk, and eggs. Availability of food is not the biggest problem. World hunger is created by factors such as like poverty and landlessness.
- Larger farms are more efficient than smaller ones.
When only the yields of one or two crops are considered, larger farms are more productive, simply because they can take advantage of economies of scale to produce thousands of acres of one crop, such as corn. However, when economists look at the total output sum of everything a farm produces: grains, fruits, animal products, forage, etc., smaller operations win hands down. Smaller farmers are more likely to intercrop on the same field, use livestock waste efficiently and involve labor that is more personally committed to the efficiency of the operation.
- Men are the farmers, the wood gatherers, and providers all over the world.
60 – 80% of the food in Africa is produced and marketed by women. Additionally, women are also responsible for most household chores associated with food consumption, including wood and water gathering, purchase, preparation, and gardening. Researchers have estimated that women in Kenya spend over 12 hours per day working, while men spend around 8 hours.
- Investing in agriculture in Africa only benefits Africa.
Agricultural research, no matter where it is performed, has the benefit of “spillovers.” Spillovers are technological innovations that can be applied elsewhere. American wheat and corn farmers, for example, benefitted immensely from Green Revolution innovations that emerged from research performed in Latin America and Asia in the 1960s – 1980s.
- Foreign assistance for agricultural development is just more handouts—free seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.
The U.S. global food security initiative Feed the Future focuses on many sustainability initiatives. Feed the Future trains small to medium-sized farmers in better farm management, storage, and processing techniques, trains government employees how to figure out what government programs and policies will help their food and farming situations, and helps bring private investment to countries.
- Foreign investment in land and farms will help those in poverty.
While additional investment in agriculture is needed in Africa, often large-scale land and agriculture deals do not consider the well-being of people already living on the land in question. Residents may be evicted from the land without consent or companies may promise jobs and amenities that never materialize. On the other hand, investments made in partnership and consultation with communities can be very beneficial.
- U.S. foreign assistance for agricultural development gets siphoned off by corrupt officials.
The U.S. does not provide any direct budgetary support to foreign governments through its Development Assistance Account or through the Millenium Challenge Account, from which most of agricultural development assistance comes. Most USG agricultural development programs are implemented by non-governmental organizations and private contractors, both of which are subject to rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and grant reporting.
- Africa is dry and poor, without much potential for anything more than subsistence farming, and, because of this, it will always be poor.
There is a great deal of fertile, arable land in Africa. However, the majority of farmers are farming with the tools, techniques, and knowledge from 100 years ago. Because of this, incomes remain low. Smart investments in small farmers and in getting food to retail markets can change this.
- There are “magic seeds” that work everywhere and increase yields substantially. If only farmers in Africa had those, they would have higher incomes.
Improved seeds come in many forms–some are naturally cross-bred and others are genetically engineered. While it can be very helpful to have high quality seeds, sometimes hybrid seeds are very expensive or their yields decline over time. Additionally, if soils are degraded, water is unavailable, or farmers do not have access to markets or proper storage, the seeds will not be able to save the farmers’ businesses.
- Increasing food production always requires expanding farmland areas.
While most farmland in the developed world has reached the limit of its productivity, land in the developing world, especially in Africa, could produce more food per acre if farmers had access to better knowledge, technology, and credit.
- There is a lot of unused arable land in the world and that is what large-scale land investors are buying.
There is very little unused land in the world. Most “unused” land is actually part of pastoralist grazing areas, is lying fallow, or is used by communities as a source of wood and forest products.