Africa’s Salvation Will be Decided in our Homes

Once again on October 16, World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization asked us to reflect. Once again, just for a moment, we thought about the fact that hunger and malnutrition are far from vanishing from the face of the earth. Among the many reasons to feel anger these days, this is the most serious and powerful.

Rivers of words were spent on writing about hunger on October 16, but unfortunately that was all that was spent. Denunciation is important, but it is not enough. It is time to spend something more tangible. Governments and international bodies are not keeping the promises they made to help development. With the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, every rich country promised to increase public aid for development to 0.7% of their GDP by 2015. Very few countries have met this target, and the majority are still far off. The average is currently a little over 0.3%. Italy is among those at the bottom of the list. We’re at 0.15% and in recent years we have continued to significantly cut this aid, in the name of the global economic crisis. Reading the new report by ActionAid Italia, published in September, should make us ashamed of how far behind we are on so many fronts. Meanwhile, despite the crisis, we continue to build bomber planes and join expensive war missions. That money alone would be more than enough for us to make our promised contribution.

Once again, the news this year from the Horn of Africa was not enough to make much of an impact on the general conscience, even though famine is currently affecting 13 million people, particularly in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Tens of thousands are already dead and 750,000 are at risk of dying in the coming months. Maybe it just sounded like the words our grandmothers or mothers used to repeat when we were children and didn’t want to finish our dinner: “Children in Africa are dying of hunger, you’re lucky you have food, what would they give to be in your place.” The words lose meaning when repeated over and over again, and sadly even hunger emergencies are coming back regularly every year. Now the news sounds a bit like our grandmother’s voice, endlessly repeating the same thing. What’s really disturbing is that out of all the challenges facing the world community today, the billion people suffering from malnutrition and hunger is one of the problems with the easiest solution. All we need is the will. All we need are the right investments, rather than spending billions to bail out the banks. At the most, it might take some small sacrifices, a bit less greed, a bit less economic and cultural colonialism. To quote Gandhi, just a few days after the anniversary of his birth, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Maybe the only solution is for each of us to start fighting this battle at a personal level. But even full of healthy and just indignation, what can we do? Let’s start with waste. According to the figures from Last Minute Market, we waste 20 million tons of food every year in Italy alone. That’s enough to feed 40 million people. We’re distracted, we’re ignorant, it is somewhat our fault. But in many ways we are the victims of a system that is structured in such a way that it can never become virtuous, not even when knocked about by the crisis.

We have an unfair economic system that makes waste its very raison d’être. Those 20 million tons of food thrown away in Italy every year feed the system: a relentless obsession with consumption in which everything is discarded and replaced as quickly as possible, including food. So we need to start revolutionizing in our own homes if we want to cultivate the hope that things will also revolutionize in Africa.

Change here to change Africa: There’s a slogan, if one was needed. Never in human history have we had so much food available for humanity and never in history have we ever wasted so much. What’s more, as a recent historiographical study about to be published in the United States explains, despite the wars going on around the world, we have never lived in such peaceful times. The waste when faced with hunger is the real anomaly of our times, the result of a profoundly wrong and obsolete way of seeing the economy, a blind belief in the possibility of infinite growth. Nothing living and tangible on earth can grow infinitely. That is a natural law.

The greedy system in which we are immersed has transformed food into a commodity and stripped it of its values. The only value that remains is cost. We are all obliged to buy, to consume, at a certain price. We don’t grow food any more, we’ve abandoned agriculture and meanwhile those who don’t have food cannot eat because they cannot buy food. This is the system that’s dooming millions of Africans. But it can be destroyed by our daily actions: not wasting food and re-educating ourselves about food and its values, including the value of agriculture. We can do this immediately, educating new generations who no longer want to participate in this free-for-all.

As for governments, it is not just a question of fulfilling commitments, of paying even larger amounts of money to the cause, but of working within international bodies so that every single action does not further worsen the situation, if they really can’t manage to do anything to improve it. By banning land grabbing, for example. This practice allows countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China to appropriate millions of hectares of fertile land in Africa and elsewhere in the world, so that they can pursue levels of economic and agro-industrial growth apparently impossible within their own borders. A total of 42 million hectares are being affected by this dangerous neo-colonialist phenomenon. Often the land is taken violently away from the local people with the connivance of their own governments. This practice should condemned and firmly blocked in the same way as dictatorships, invasions and other issues requiring UN intervention.

Let me say that with Slow Food we are collecting funds to give to communities to start a thousand food gardens in Africa over the next year. A drop in the ocean, because there should really be a million, but it is still something. For a community, a food garden is a return to the land, to the dignity of growing one’s own food and a guarantee of self-sufficiency through local techniques and seeds. We are only providing help from a distance, offering resources and simple, non-invasive technical improvements. Luckily we are not the only ones.

The hope is that politics puts all these issues among its priorities, but that will be very hard unless it gives up on the economic-financial system with which it has a mutually beneficial relationship, unless it looks towards new paths and new paradigms for the future, towards a real agricultural renaissance everywhere. We will start with reciprocity, with giving and circulating these gifts in this sick economy, starting also with support for our own farmers, with direct purchases of local food. They too are starting to feel the disastrous effects of a system incompatible with nature, a system that is crushing them. The farmers, together with civil society associations, united in the CISA (Comitato Italiano per Sicurezza Alimentare, the Italian committee for food security), are making their voice heard in Rome in these very days, at the FAO: let’s listen to them, let’s support them. I truly believe that by not wasting food, by helping local agricultural economies in every corner of the world, giving them something to help individual African communities be responsible for their own food production, we can start a new profound change, which will eventually change Africa too. But always only thanks to the Africans: We have to give them the possibility of change, and stop making them pay for our iniquitous and crazy behavior.

Carlo Petrini
Slow Food International President

Originally published in La Repubblica.

For more information or to donate to Slow Food’s project, A Thousand Gardens in Africa, visit:

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