World Hunger : Nasser Brahimi, writer and international expert with United Nations agencies and programs, likes word games. By writing this book for everyone, its objective is simple: to help us better understand the mechanisms responsible for food insecurity. It depicts the ravages of man on nature, the implications for food production and the economic inequalities that exacerbate hunger. Today, as the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the vulnerability of food production and distribution systems, he explains why this moment is precious for rethinking everything. Nasser Brahimi confided in Point Afrique.
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Le Point Afrique: In your book World Hunger, you describe in the first part all the causes that lead to food insecurity and the end of life on Earth. Among these causes, you refer to poaching and bushmeat trafficking. Precisely, the consumption of pangolin is one of the hypotheses for the transmission of Covid-19 from animals to humans. Can you describe the driving forces behind this traffic and its dangers?
Nasser Brahimi: Indeed, this first part of the book makes us fear the worst, I admit it. It was necessary to draw attention to the real risks of the way of living our planet, in the charming company of wild fauna and flora. What kind of coexistence do we want? Man has continued to occupy the space reserved for flora and fauna. Formerly virgin and uninhabited regions, where many species lived, are weakened. Far from our bucolic vision, African peasants have little empathy for wildlife and rather see wild animals as meat, a source of protein. Besides, in several Bantu languages, the word nyama, used to designate the fauna, also means bushmeat.
However, poaching of wildlife is the fourth largest illegal market in the world, after drugs, counterfeiting and migrant smuggling. Instead of sustainable hunting, poaching and the illicit trade in wild species and plants are a crime that bleeds the fauna and flora of these countries, depriving the indigenous populations of their heritage. Its sole purpose is to enrich the traffickers and their local accomplices. It would bring in from 7 to 23 billion dollars per year. But also the illegal exploitation of wildlife can compromise human and animal health through the spread of virulent diseases, such as Covid-19.
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The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a number of countries to take measures never observed on this planetary scale: confinement, curfew, etc. What impacts is the Covid likely to have on food security in Africa, the continent already most affected by food insecurity? What are the possible consequences in rural areas and in cities?
In the West, you see endless lines of needy people queuing for a hot meal. In the South, certain regimes took advantage of this medical-military curfew to give a hell of a turn. We have witnessed a tremendous strengthening of military-police regimes: total control of the Internet, arrests and imprisonment of protesters (all of them peaceful).
Africa did not wait for the Covid-19 to suffer. There, it is not a question of choosing who to save, but who to feed. The situation has worsened as a result of this pandemic, but, thank God, the continent seems to be spared the worst. Africa already imports almost everything it consumes, even though it owns two thirds of the world’s arable land. UN reports that among the multiple effects of Covid-19 on economic activities and supply chains, food prices are rising, further penalizing the poor and reducing household access to basic foodstuffs. Farmers are also facing increasing difficulties in producing, due to the lack of inputs, labor mobility, etc., which in the long term could seriously undermine their livelihoods. We are already in an emergency situation. Before the pandemic, 135 million people around the world were already suffering from acute hunger due to wars, armed conflict, climatic shocks and economic recessions, according to the world report on the food crises of 2020. Almost 183 million people could slip into extreme hunger.
Children are also victims of Covid-19! They think less of it, but the interruption of school deprived them of a safe space and a daily food ration. In Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, polio vaccination campaigns have been halted, according to UNICEF. In Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Djibouti, no measles vaccine is in progress at the moment.
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In addition to these food security risks linked to Covid, there is the invasion of locusts in East Africa, which is now likely to spread to West Africa. How can countries prepare to cope?
It’s true, as if that were not enough! Africa is confronted today with a rather severe invasion of locusts. It is an unprecedented crisis in food security and livelihoods that continues in the Horn of Africa. With each locust invasion, FAO, the lead agency, organizes and coordinates the fight against locusts (Schistocerca gregaria). I know something about it because I participated in the management of previous crises. During the locust upsurge of 1988, they managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Mauritania to the Caribbean, covering 5,000 kilometers in 10 days! Not only did the swarms land on all ships, but also on the waves. The former drowned, but their corpses served as rafts for the others. These voracious insects devour everything in their path and leave behind only a wake of sadness and desolation. The situation is likely to worsen. According to FAO experts, the invasion will likely spread to Southwest Asia and possibly West Africa. Like that, the circle is closed!
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What are the lessons to be learned from this pandemic and the sketches of possible solutions, which you mention in particular in the last part of your work The end of hunger ?
For the first time in human history, health came before the economy. We will know the extent of the consequences in the coming months. It is an example of a change of course, necessary, vital, effected by the whole of humanity. And if this awareness could accelerate the ecological transition with the consideration and therefore the acceptance of environmental problems, the search for solutions and their implementation. We are rediscovering local and quality agriculture, more respectful of natural cycles and the value chain from producer to distributor. The ideal is to eat better, less and diversified. Many scientists see as a solution the application of agroecology, which consists in applying ecological principles so as to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment, without forgetting the social aspects which need to be addressed. take this into account so that the food system is sustainable and equitable. Agroecology will restore ecosystem services and biodiversity in a healthy way.
Of course, some voices are wondering how to feed the world if we don’t boost agriculture with pesticides. Certainly, they have brought many things to society: they have reduced the work of farmers, multiplied yields and made it possible to achieve food self-sufficiency in many regions of the world. But, over time, we learned that pesticides kill bees, kill birds and trigger serious illness among their users. All that is not nothing like price to pay! Over time, we learned that pesticide manufacturers were making mountains of money. They are capable, beyond all moral and honesty (I would add legally), to bribe scientists to publish complacent reports and to deceive public opinion. And media addiction doesn’t help matters either. Awareness is growing day by day. This tsunami, the pandemic, revealed many truths about our way of life and food. It is still early to realize it, but I am convinced that nothing should be as before. In general, the current food system is both dangerous for humans, toxic to the environment and unfair, as it produces inequality, poverty, dependence.
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* Hunger of the world, Nasser Brahimi, Balland editions, 216 p.