A lot on our plate

The global food system delivers too much unhealthy food to many at the same time as it fails to provide adequate or sufficient food to more than 800 million. — Oxfam, Good Enough to Eat

After a peri­od of enjoy­ing good and diverse food dur­ing the hol­i­days and in Tana, we are back in the vil­lage and have to do with what is on offer here. For a few days no bread has been avail­able, a sign that the road way to Ambat is real­ly suf­fer­ing from the rainy sea­son by now. Fred­dy was plan­ning to go that way with the car today but that was can­celled because it is too wet. For­tu­nate­ly, we brought all kinds of canned food and spreads from Tana. And there is enough that we can buy around us. Green beans, toma­toes, onions, man­goes, and rice of course. With eggs, flour and milk, we make our­selves a good lunch.


An “ele­gant break­fast”, accord­ing to Freddy.

This week, Oxfam has pub­lished results of their research “Good Enough to Eat”. In this, they com­bine data on var­i­ous aspects of food: Do peo­ple have enough to eat, can they afford it, how is the qual­i­ty, and what is the extent of dia­betes and obe­si­ty? The coun­try that comes out as the best place to eat is the Nether­lands. Of course, that is rea­son enough to men­tion it here. But with my stom­ach filled with pan­cakes and look­ing at the neighbour’s maize field, I also won­der how Mada­gas­car is scoring.

Let’s start with ‘enough to eat’ — as mea­sured by the per­cent­ages of mal­nu­tri­tion and under­weight chil­dren — here Mada­gas­car dan­gles on the third worst posi­tion. More than one third of the chil­dren in the coun­try are under­weight. When it comes to qual­i­ty of food Mada­gas­car even has the low­est score in the sur­vey. Peo­ple most­ly eat nutri­ent-poor cere­als (rice) and root crops (cas­sa­va). In gen­er­al, it can be stat­ed that this is linked to high food prices. Espe­cial­ly in coun­tries in Sub-Saha­ran Africa the price of food is high in com­par­i­son to oth­er prod­ucts and ser­vices. We do not expe­ri­ence the mis­er­able posi­tion of Mada­gas­car every day. We are in a region that pro­duces a lot of rice and enjoys rel­a­tive pros­per­i­ty because of that.


In the con­clu­sion, Oxfam gives the rec­om­men­da­tion that we have heard before from devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tions and donors: Invest­ing in small-hold­er agri­cul­ture in devel­op­ing coun­tries. The word invest implies that prof­its can be made in terms of high­er pro­duc­tion and mar­ket access. How­ev­er, the real­i­ty often shows that invest­ments in new tech­nolo­gies do not sim­ply lead to changed prac­tices. This is part of Freddy’s research on the adop­tion of Con­ser­va­tion Agri­cul­ture, a tech­nique that helps in adapt­ing to cli­mate change. He looks at the process­es of edu­ca­tion and the ways in which farm­ers make choices.

The vast major­i­ty of the African pop­u­la­tion makes a liv­ing by sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture . The oppor­tu­ni­ties and choic­es of these peo­ple will shape the future, for them­selves, for the cities and the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment . We are try­ing to learn more about this. In order to do this, we some­times need to tem­porar­i­ly for­get our num­ber one position…