Category Archives: Sophie Minter

The Hunger of War: Food scarcity and Competition in Africa


When looking at what most affects food security, it seems obvious that the first point of call would be conflict itself. But why is this the case? In focusing on the recent conflicts on the continent, 3 assumptions can come from this: first, conflict takes away a state’s priorities for sustainable food production, second: conflict directs the majority of food supplies to those fighting, and therefore often away from areas which are most in need and finally, there is a general reduction in crop supply owing to damages made to the land and reduced laborers to harvest crops. As shown by the international food policy research institution, because conflict disrupts markets and agricultural production it will ultimately reduce food availability.

Food security in Africa has 2 elements. When it comes to conflict people’s access to food is reduced two-fold because they lack the economic means to purchase food owing to the fact that there will be reduced state subsidies decreasing the price of food, and secondly because of the notion of supply and demand. With a reduced supply owing to the factors that will be discussed, demand increases making accessing such food harder. This is particularly true in Africa where there are high levels of subsistence farming (producing food for one’s self).

Under the General definition of conflict it entails multitudesof destruction as the aim is to reduce one’s opponent to a point where they can no longer fight as shown by Messer and Cohen. Thus, the reduction of crop production becomes an intrinsic part of conflict therefore reducing food security both short term and long term because crops will be destroyed therefore decreasing the amount available to feed the population. It will also reduce the ability to produce more crops in the future. This is the case for three reasons: economic, environmental and social:

Through the destruction of property there is clearly a need for repair and therefore to pay for such repairs. Secondly, the destruction of property is likely to affect the soil so the land will become less productive for a number of years and third, conflict will entail a loss of life which will decrease the number of labourers who can harvest and farm the land

The aforementioned points link to the rising incidence of famines to conflict. This is exemplified in Somalia where in 1991-1992drought caused severe famine. What can be taken from this is that it is a lack of decent management of the land and resources the leads to such severe effects on food production, something which is feared to reoccur now in Somalia.

Furthermore, a state’s priorities will shift from the production of food to militarising certain areas during times of war. This is certainly the case for inter-state conflict and even more so when we look at civil war. In this state priorities are damaged and disrupted even further because the state apparatus will be weakened as part of an intra-state conflict. Therefore, in areas of active conflict there will be increases in the level of food insecurity because there is less priority placed on the production of food for consumption and more on cash crops and feeding military forces. Evidently from recent data collected by the World Food Program on the violence in DRC  in 2015, 1 in 10 people living in rural areas are in a situation of food security. This as the World Food Program shows has been caused by reduced availability and access owing to the inability of the state to provide access to quality food during the escalating violence.

Finally, conflicts direct food away from areas that are most in need. This is particularly true in areas that have experienced conflict in the past or where large number of refugees have settled. Evidently, prioritization takes place under policies during times of conflict in which those considered both internationally and internally displaced persons are pushed to the bottom of the hierarchy. This is what leads to such a high incidence of food insecurity in correlation with conflicts because these populations are the most vulnerable. This is particularly the case in Guinea. From data collected by the international food policy research institute from there were 2,300,000 total food insecure people in Guinea. What is alarming about this is that these are refugees from neighbouring conflicts, people who will already be in highly vulnerable situations where their food security is likely to have been even lower.

Food security itself can also cause conflict. As shown by the 2004 study, the factors which lead to conflict in developing countries include intergroup competition over resources such as land, water and developmental aid

Much of the conflict analysis that took place on the continent between 1980-1990s shows a link with identity politics which was heighted by the perceived scarcity of primary resources – ‘Grievance’. This was the case Rwanda where competition over land between the two groups and therefore access to agricultural improvement programs directly preceded the 1994 genocide. So it is a fear over a lack of resourcesand the want to gain sufficient amounts of food, that enabled the escalation of ethnic tensions that already existed in Rwanda following the Belgium preference of the Tutsi’s as shown by Englebert and Dunne. In both post conflict and pre-conflict situations there can be a connection made between this perceived ‘grievance’ (possible lack of food) and conflict because of the want to possess food over others.

Women are the Key to Reducing Food Insecurity in Africa

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 50% of the food grown internationally is done so by women. More specifically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, “women contribute 60 to 80 percent of the labour in both food production for household consumption and for sale… women’s contributions to household food production range from 30 percent in Sudan to 80 percent in the Congo,while the proportion of women in the economically active labour force in agriculture ranges from 48 percent in Burkina Faso to 73 percent in the Congo (FAO, Picture331994)” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). While the actual responsibilities of women differ in each country; overall, women provide most of the physical labor involved in agricultural practices, as well as most of the household preparation of food.

So what?

The level to which food insecurity occurs in Africa is attributed to gender inequality or the gender gap. Men and women who are both involved in food production have unequal access to a variety of things that aid in food security including “land and capital, credit, agricultural inputs, education and appropriate technology” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). Socially and culturally women are seen as inferior. This is a Western concept that was brought to Africa along with colonization. As a result, the idea of gender roles was also introduced, but in food production has been more of a conceptual idea rather than an actualized one. Women do the majority of the agricultural work across Africa but they continue to be undervalued and underacknowledged. This is partially because of legislation that makes it nearly impossible for women to own and control land. As a result, they are doing the majority of the work, but have very little control over what they are doing. This impacts food security as they are directly cultivating the crops, as well as the lack of an income needed to purchase food for the household and prepare it. This means that women are responsible for providing nutritious and balanced meals for the families, but do not have the means to do so. It has been shown that women spend more of their income on household goods when compared to men but have less of an income than men. This results in less nutritious and less of a variety of foods being purchased. In addition to the lack of income, with the gender gap, women are often not provided education on balanced and nutritious diets. The FAO therefore has claimed that equalizing the gender gap will be the most efficient way to combat food insecurity.

What can be done?

Because of the food insecurity in Africa being partially attributed to gender inequality, more emphasis has been put on examining gender inequality in order to increase food production and decrease poverty, therefore improving security. There are many researchers who stress the necessity of programs surrounding the issues of food production in the areas of both education and training. These programs should specifically target gender issues relating to the topics. Rather than being “gender blind”, these programs should be focusing on providing the different training needed for men and women, as they have different issues surrounding food security. Never Assan, an Associate Professor of Animal Production at the Zimbabwe Open University, claimed that it is necessary to for women to be educated in sustainable food production in addition to being empowered through policy making (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”).

Research already shows the value that providing programs dedicated to women has on food security: According to the article, “Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”, a study was done examining many developing countries from 1970 through 1995. It was discovered that 43% of the decline in hunger was credited to the progress in women education.

The education put in place to close the gender gap will be most effective if it combines the outside aid of those with professional skills and knowledge with people in the community who share and know the workings of everyday life in that region. Because of the different farming practices in different regions in Africa, including the acknowledgement of different climates and access to various technological advances, there is not a one size fits all solution. By having members of the community aid in the training, jobs are being created and the education will become more specialized to the region. Specific programs and training should be implemented and as such, research and planning must be done prior. In these programs, the differences in gender roles and availability of resources should be discussed, teaching women how to best work with what they have access to, in addition to addressing farming for personal use verses farming for economic and community use. It is expected that the training and education will directly cause there to be an increase in food available, helping to decrease food insecurity.

Overall, the necessity of “access to productive resources, education and training, provision of extension services, credit facilities and appropriate technology” (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”) is crucial for women in order to close the gender gap and increase food security throughout Africa. As a result of the closure of the gap, there will be an increase in food production, a greater role in agriculture for women, as well as better financial situations, which allow women to provide more nutritional food for their families.

National Identity and Food

Food and national identity have long been closely associated with each other.  In the United States people classify restaurants by the country where the dishes they serve are thought to have originated.  Certain dishes have become inseparable from the countries that they come from.  Hamburgers are associated with the United States, tacos are associated with Mexico, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with England, sushi with Japan, and so on.  Chances are you already knew about most of the dishes that were just talked about, but I challenge you to name one national dish from an African country.  Chances are, unless you have been to Africa or studied it, you cannot do it.  That is because in the United States and Europe whenever someone says Africa and food, the first things that pop into our mind are famine and starvation.

Africa does in fact have national dishes or at the very least dishes that are associated with a nation or region.  However, it is important to understand that in Africa national boundaries and cultural boundaries are often two different things.  This makes the development of a national cuisine or any kind of a national culture for that matter, a very complicated process.  This blog post will look at national, regional, and cultural identity and how their complex relationship can be explained through the lens of food.

The first example of how African countries have struggled to formulate a national food comes out of Ghana in the early years of independence.  In 1957 Ghana became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from its colonizer and their first President, Kwame Nkrumah was focused on bringing about national unity.  He struggled to this as the many ethnic groups desired to reinforce ethnic boundaries, but regardless Nkrumah tried hard to create a unifying Ghanaian culture.  As part of this, there were efforts to establish a national cuisine, but unfortunately, they never truly materialized.  With Cocoa production taking on such an important role in the post-colonial economy, many advocated for making cocoa a national food, but Nkrumah say that cocoa was already a part of Asante culture, and that making cocoa a national food would be seen as favoritism to one ethnic tradition.  This is an example of how complex formulating a national cuisine can be.

There are also examples of how regional cuisines have been adapted to become part of a national identity.  Since neighboring countries often share similar climates and economic realities, it is not unusual for their food to be quite similar.  One example of this is Jollof rice in West Africa.  This dish, which originated in Senegal, can be found across western Africa in a number of different variations.  The popularity of the dish has sparked a friendly competition over which country has the best jollof rice.  The debate is particularly fierce between Ghana and Nigeria where government officials and celebrities from each country talk about why their country’s version of the dish is better.  This is an example of how a regional dish can turn into a national dish and become a symbol of national identity.

It is important to note that the development of a national cuisine is influenced by the history of that country.  In Africa this is important because the colonizing countries played a big role in influencing the culinary traditions that would go on to be a part of national identity.  There are many instances of this.  One example is in Nigeria where the cuisine found there today is heavily influenced by both of the country’s colonizers; the Portuguese and the British.  Fried plantains and sweet potatoes are very popular today in Nigeria, but they were originally brought there by Portuguese sailors.  The same is true in Zimbabwe where oatmeal and porridge are commonly eaten for breakfast, a tradition that is part of their national identity thanks to British rule.

While the development of a national cuisine has been a struggle in many African countries, there is evidence that today food is very much a part of national identity.  Nowhere is this more evident than it is with African diaspora.  African immigrants in the United States and Europe can shop at grocery stores and restaurants that have food from their country of origin.  These businesses are able to stay open and operate overseas because they have a loyal clientele that keep coming back to eat the food that they identify with.

Africa is a large continent with an impressive variety of both cultures and food.  The diversity of cultures and historical backgrounds make African countries what they are today.  While some countries were able to establish some kind of national cuisine, other still struggle to do so and cuisines divide as nations instead of uniting them.

Can we make Africa great ‘again’? US and European monetary invention on the continent

The issue of aid particularly from nations in the west is a controversial one, which has become even more debated in recent years. There are Two parts to this issue: direct investment by governments and the involvement of Western NGOs. It is the former that is the most controversial in that it involves direct intervention by one government on Picture16another, which is perhaps why we have seen a shift away from direct monetary support towards financial assistance through the neoliberal market: it is the increase in trade and inclusion of the continent in the export-import trade that now characterizes the main aspects of the western aid relationship.

There has always been some level of dependency on the West in Africa, whether it was during decolonization, cold war assistance or in the form of structural adjustment programs; remnants of colonial support has clearly stretched throughout the continents history. It is this history which evidently provides the reasoning behind why we see a continuation of such policies, ones that now appears to have taken the form of aid with a twist; ie aid not in the traditional sense.

Foreign aid can be defined as any action by a government or citizens of one country which helps to promote economic development in another country. It is using this definition which outlines the processes we see today particularly with regards to the forms of aid that comes from the west.

The marshall plan is considered to be a major force behind the evolution of foreign aid towards its present form. Since then processes of assessing aid have been introduced by the world bank in 1998. These practices mainly consist of providing food, cash or reducing the levels of debt in countries involved in this exchange. Despite these initiatives being successfully applied to countries such as Uganda there is still a high dependency on aid, suggesting that these policies have not been successful in achieving their original purpose. When focusing specifically on Uganda what becomes evident is that the western form of aid has not always worked. Thus, while it cannot be denied that in many cases the aid that countries on the continent received to help economic development were successful, it has to be noted that such aid has created high levels of resentment within the continent particularly amongst those who feel that aid is simply a new form of colonialism. It is the notion of aid and therefore dependency that has sparked such feelings owing to the ideas of control and subordination attached to foreign aid. This is particularly made evident by Deaton an expert on global poverty who argues against aid owing to his statement that  aid “typically serves commercial interests at home or buys political allies abroad”. It is his opposition against monetary aid which draws my attention to the negative effects of aid

As a region Africa accounts for around 20% of US aid; with Egypt, Kenya and South Sudan being the biggest beneficiaries. Thus, Trumps reduction in foreign aid which already only accounted for 1% in the spending budget will severely affect development projects owing to heavy reliance on such funding within the state. However what recent studies have shown that although on the surface reduction in aid creates negative issues, evidence suggests growth will increase as the percentage of aid decreases. This because state are able to become more independent.

But is the disinterest which provided the root cause for this shift good or bad?

Picture17When looking at Trump’s policy he continues to pursue a policies that he believed would have the greatest benefits for the American people. Wherein he can be seen to remove the US as a major within the international aid system. But I argue that this has had positive impacts on the African People owing to greater independence. Because of this It is therefore in the interests of African states to move away from aid and towards trade in order to provide a more responsive economic environment domestically that will both attract further foreign investment and encourage the growth of competition. It is these movements that create the positive levels of growth in Uganda that we see today because there is an emphasis on competitive development to meet the demands of the global market,

Following the increasing investment from China, US aid switched to  prioritize health and education, rather than the economic forms that are discussed above. It is this form of aid that will help the continent more particularly when focusing of food and economics. Evidently, Western aid has not only been centered around money but also food; the benefits of food aid to Uganda and other states on the continent Africa is connected to providing resources free of charge which therefore offers the potential for achieving stabilization in food supply and price as supply and demand are not increasing. Such forms of aid are essential to provide food stability.

What has also has to be shown is that it is not only western governments that have taken up this mantel. Since the 1970s there has been increasing emphasis on NGOs involvement within the continent particularly following natural disasters or in conflict situations. It is this notion of humanitarianism that has set the bar for aid that has come from governments owing to the increasing understanding that aid should be human in nature. It is the human aspect, which has perhaps been the cause of the shift away from direct financial funding towards trade in order to allow for the realization of self-determination. Arguably it is the emphasis on humanitarianism which has meant that we see more aid in the form of food and resources over monetary assistance particularly in places where we see high levels of neopatrimonialism.

Perhaps this shift has come about through the rivalry that has grown between the US and China on the continent. Thus, if this rivalry is set to continue what we are likely to see in this continuation is a diversification of aid between the two countries, both of which will work towards increasing the states access to food. This is because both states seek to provide different forms of aid in the continent in order to win the hearts of the state, but it is yet to be determined whether it will be food aid or trade that will aid the continent more. To take a educated guess in the backdrop of globalization, it is the supported movement into the global market that will produce the most promising results. In sum, through removing levels of monetary aid in the form we can make Africa great.

Sukuma Wiki

Picture13Sukuma Wiki is a traditional dish eaten within East Africa, particularly in Kenya and largely consists of Leafy greens and Tomatoes. The term comes from Swahili meaning “week-pusher” as this dish is often used bulk out other main meals to make them last the week. It is often served alongside Ugali or Chapatti and a form of meat stew. This dish although not the most important aspect of a meal can be seen in a sense as an “invisible” food, as it adds more substance to a meal cheaply and easily.

Particularly in East Africa there is greater access to African Indigenous Vegetables or AIVs, which form the main component of this dish. AIVs, are mainly vegetables that fall under the category of “leafy” or “hearty” greens thus they consist of: Kale, Collard Greens and similar vegetables according to Musotsi. AIVs have been a part of meals in East Africa for centuries and are often served with other foods especially starches at lunch. There is an evident meal culture around AIVs and consequently Sukuma Wiki. A “meal culture” refers to the idea that there is a clear event surrounding the thought, preparation, and eating of a meal. With regards to Sukuma Wiki in rural regions where AIVs make up the majority of weekly meals as revealed by Lee-Smiths study, a meal Picture14culture has developed in which the consumption of Sukuma Wiki now forms part of people’s daily lives as shown by Lee-Smiths study in Kenya.

The high levels of availability and their durability under the changing environmental conditions, has meant that AIVs have become more common amongst populations daily diets in the east Africa. This is particularly true for those who may be unable to afford meat products. This positively affects the region as AIVs have contributed significantly to food security as noted by Musotsi. This is because particularly in regions where there is rising food insecurity as the dish is used to spread out other meals it means that Sukuma Wiki can ensure that there is sufficient food for a family or community, which ultimately means they will face less issues related to malnutrition or lack of nutrition. Arguably the consumption of this dish is likely to increase in consumption over the coming years because of this fact that it provides food and nutritional security to a community in the sense that it is easy to access monetarily and physically, therefore reducing the likelihood a family or community may have to go without food when other products get too expensive due to decreased availability.

This dish is very common in Kenya, however throughout the country there are variations to the recipe depending on the ethnic group and outside influences present. An important factor as noted in Musotsi’s article is that the consumption of these leafy vegetables is based on perception. In particular, how well the greens are cooked is dependent on preference with regards to the color and texture of the dish. This clearly links back to the idea of a meal culture because the perceptions of the dish and how it is consumed is arguably dependent on the culture surround it mainly: whether it would be used in feasts as Fleischer notes or as a way to consume more vitamins. The latter due to resource scarcity is unfortunately on the rise, which has clearly affected the meal culture surrounding the dish which will arguably mean it cooking of such a dish will be quicker in order to retain the vitamins.

In addition the dish is also affected by the country it is made in as shown by Durand 2012. In South Sudan where there has been a greater Indian influence in the region this has led to a higher concentration and diverse usage of spices in the dish. Thus, what can be assumed from this is that the dish is both affected from region as mentioned above but also outside factors. But as a rule of thumb the most common additions are turmeric and coriander.

Lastly, when considering the meal culture behind this dish, it is essential to draw attention to the way in which it is prepared. From research the preparation of this dish has been gendered. From the famous poem written by Neem Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, the addition of Sukuma Wiki in the account of a woman’s daily life bares significance for our purpose of looking at this specific dish, as the discussion of the dish clearly shows that it has become part of modern life particularly for women in the working community owing to the ease of preparation as described by Mawiyoo:

“working women walking to build a nation, this morning mainly concerned with tonight’s meal of Ugali and Sukuma Wiki”

This, I argue suggests a gendered aspect to the meal culture as preparation of the dish is still dependent on women. It is their conscious decisions with regards to food consumption that affect the way that Sukuma wiki is eaten because as Browns et al.  noted it is women who are responsible for this aspect of domestic life, thus food security arguably falls under their jurisdiction.  Due to the fact that the dish is made AIVs a decision to cook a “week pusher”, clearly increases the food security of a family and therefore perhaps the remaining economic spending power to go on other food products. This dish highlights the domestic power that women hold with regards to human security because of their ability to provide food security, a crucial component of the notion of human security, however it clearly also draws attention to the lack of men in domestic household decisions, therefore showing a gendered relationship.

Picture15My discussion of the main ingredient of this dish has drawn attention specifically to Kenya because the studies that focuses on AIV have centered around Kenya, thus for the purposes of this context, the recipe I have drawn from is from coastal Kenya.  There are of course other options with additional spices as noted above. These recipes, indicate the differing effects geographically of Islamic trading influences with regards to the importing of new spices which Fleisher points out have been included in East African Culture since the 1400 AD following Islamic expansionism through the trade of goods.

Crucially the continued consumption of this dish highlights the continual importance of the Islamic influence due to the continued use of imported spices such as Turmeric and Cumin. Taking in the historic culture behind this dish as a “week pusher”, I suggest that it will become increasingly important in this region as East Africa continues to be effected by famine and reduced resource availability.


  • 1 bunch of collard Greens or Kale, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt (taste)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup water/stock


  1. In a medium to large pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions over a medium heat until they just begin to soften. Add the minced garlic and sautee for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the ground cumin, ground coriander, and ground turmeric, and allow to gently fry for about 20 seconds until you get the aroma of spices, then promptly add tomatoes and blend well into the mixture, making sure the spices don’t burn at the bottom of the pan. (Tip: add a tablespoon of water, if necessary, to scrape off any spices that may stick.)
  3. Once the tomatoes soften, add the ground beef or chicken and cook until all pinkness is gone from the meat. Add salt.
  4. Add the collard greens or kale a handful at a time, stirring until all the greens are well coated with the mixture.
  5. Add the water/stock, reduce the heat to medium, and cover. Cook until the greens reach desired tenderness (ideally about 10 minutes).
  6. Remove from the heat and add a bit of lemon juice to taste.

The ease and simplicity of the recipe means that it can be made multiple times throughout the week to spread out the usage of more expensive foods such as meat and also enable greater freedom for women as shown by the poem owing to the quickness with which it can be made.