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Food crisis ‘artificially imposed’, says Kenyan theologian/ecologist


The roots of an impending global food crisis that has led to soaring prices for basic foodstuffs are to be found as much in political as in economic factors, says a Kenyan academic who belongs to a global church environmental network.

"The rise in price is not only because of decline in supply," said Professor Jesse Mugambi, who teaches religious studies and philosophy at the University of Nairobi. "It is artificially imposed by rises in fuel costs and other constraints more political than economic."

Mugambi was interviewed by Ecumenical News International after the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development on 5 May began a two-week meeting in New York. The commission is discussing issues "critical for increasing the global food supply in a manner that addresses concerns regarding poverty, hunger and the environment".

Mugambi said there could be no short-term solution to a long-term problem. "The long-term solution is equity, not charity," said Mugambi, a member of a World Council of Churches’ working group on climate change. "Equity is based on long-term investment."

The UN meeting is taking place against a background of price hikes for basic food commodities that have sparked unrest and riots in many countries around the world.

"Food prices have soared, without an improvement in personal and family income," noted Mugambi. He said that current international economic and agricultural policies discourage Africa from growing staple foods in favour of cash crops.

The UN says challenges in agriculture and rural development are made more urgent by increased land degradation, drought and desertification, particularly in Africa. This has reduced soil fertility and food production, causing increasing hardships to rural populations.

"Africa is the only continent which produces what it does not consume, and consumes what it does not produce," Mugambi told ENI. "Tropical Africa has some of the best soils for agricultural production in the world," he said. "But why should those soils be used for the production of non-staple agricultural commodities, while some of its people go hungry every day?"

Some church leaders believe climate change, the production of bio-fuels and rising energy costs are factors leading to the food crisis. In addition, said Roman Catholic Archbishop Boniface Lele of Mombasa, "People are moving to towns, meaning there are fewer farmers. Working on farms is less prestigious, compared to the lure of towns."

Ecumenical News International