In an ideal world, Africa, a continent rich in natural resources, should never have to deal with a lack of food.
But unfortunately, according to the latest statistics, there are 276 million people going hungry in Africa, even though the world, and the continent itself, is capable of producing more than enough food to feed them.
With skyrocketing prices, the food system as it exists is broken, and if nothing is done to fix it, the worldwide hunger problem will just get worse according to a report released by aid organization Oxfam International earlier this week entitled Growing a Better Future.
For Oscar-nominated actor and Oxfam global ambassador Djimon Hounson, a native of Benin in West Africa, the issue is close to his heart.
“I’ve traveled around the world with Oxfam, and also while working, and witnessed so much devastation,” he said in an interview with BET.com. “It’s very difficult for Africa and some of the underdeveloped countries to function and sustain a certain livelihood within the world market.”
As for his position with Oxfam, Hounson, who has appeared in such films as Amistad and Blood Diamond, credits his roles in part for having a voice to tackle global issues.
“I’ve done work that highlights…political issues around the world. And in doing so, it propelled me to want to make movies that really have a message because nowadays we have so very little time to read and get our information through books,” he said. “So a lot of what we learn about the world politics or what goes on around the world we learn from movies. So in that respect I was completely driven to be a part of pictures that have a message, and, outside of the work, to actively do things to empower humanity.”
Hounsou as well as other Oxfam supporters were on hand Wednesday in Washington D.C. as the organization launched its GROW campaign to fight worldwide hunger. The new initiative promotes the empowerment of small-time farmers who, if given the proper support, will not only be able to produce enough food to feed their communities but will also gain economic independence and be able to sustain a living for themselves.
Why should the coffee farmers in East Africa die poor, while companies overseas get most of the profit? Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan ambassador to the United States, asked during the ceremony. “Everyone is doing well, but not the producer.”
With such a dysfunctional system, the report estimates the food problem will reach critical heights.
By the year 2050 the world population is estimated to be nine billion and the demand for food will increase 70 percent, though our actual production is declining.
What’s the major issue holding back food production? Bad policies.
“U.S. policies are making it more difficult for the small farmers, who grow much of the world’s food, to have enough to feed their own families,” Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam, said in a press release. “With sensible reforms to increase productivity and resilience of small farmers around the world, we can GROW a better future that holds greater economic prosperity, national security, and a more stable food supply for everyone for generations to come.”
The group is calling on lawmakers, President Obama and private sector heads to implement change. Solutions, outlined in their five-point plan, include:
1) Investing in small-scale food producers
2) Ending excessive speculation in agriculture commodities
3) Modernizing food aid
4) Stopping giveaways to the corn-ethanol industry
5) Regulating land and water grabs
With almost a billion hungry people worldwide, the issue transcends politics and should be approached with a sense of urgency. “Food is non-negotiable,” Odembo said. “That’s the mindset we should take.”
(Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)