Hunger "overcoming strategies", according to the World Bank


By Vicent Boix

In 2011, a terrible famine broke out in the Horn of Africa, threatening the lives and livelihoods of more than 12 million people - in recent months it has spread to eight Sahel countries, where there are an estimated 15 million people at serious risk of food insecurity. Few things can be added to such a statement of principles.

In 2011, a terrible famine broke out in the Horn of Africa, threatening the lives and livelihoods of more than 12 million people, mainly in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, although the situation spread to Sudan and certain regions of Uganda. Chaotic situations have been reported and deaths from starvation are estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000, according to Oxfam and Save the Children. (1) The situation was improving slightly in the region, thanks to humanitarian action and the rains that took place in late 2011 , (2) but despite everything, 8 million people continue to receive humanitarian assistance and the FAO has launched an alert because the forecast for the next rainy season seems to indicate that it will rain less than expected. (3)

The crisis is far from being resolved, and in recent months it has spread to eight Sahel countries, where it is estimated that there are approximately 15 million people at serious risk of food insecurity. The most affected states are Niger (5.4 million, 35% of the population), Chad (3.6 million, 28% of the population), Mali (3 million, 20% of the population), Burkina Faso (1, 7 million, 10% of the population), Senegal (0.85 million, 6% of the population), Gambia (0.71 million, 37% of the population) and Mauritania (0.7 million, 22% of the population ), although the distress has also spread to Cameroon and Nigeria. (4)

The increase in food prices

For various organizations, the cause of the tragedies in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel has its origin in the increase in food prices, the drought in the region and poor harvests. The reality is that along with circumstantial reasons such as drought or reduction of plantings, other “historical” ones should be added such as the destructuring of communities and their agricultural traditions, a deficient agrarian policy, promotion of agro-exports to the detriment of food sovereignty and peasant agriculture for own consumption and sale in national markets, etc.

All of this has made many African countries dependent on food imports, and with it, international food prices that have doubled in less than a decade. Initially, this increase was intended to be linked, perversely, with the supply and demand of food and agricultural raw materials (especially cereals). But with the passage of time it has been recognized that this increase is more related to financial investment in the futures food markets, as can be seen in the graph.

In this way, the European Parliament recognized in January 2011 that “… these events are only partly caused by basic principles of the market such as supply and demand and that they are largely a consequence of speculation (…) speculative movements are responsible of almost 50% of recent price increases… ”(5). In the same direction, Olivier de Schutter, United Nations rapporteur for the right to food, stated in September that “Support for biofuels, as well as other aspects related to supply [such as poor harvests or the suspension of exports] they are factors of relatively minor importance, but in the tense and desperate state of world finance they unleash a gigantic speculative bubble. ”(6)

For decades, agriculture that exported food and raw materials was promoted, in turn creating dependence on imports, which has led to disastrous dynamics such as the one announced by the FAO at the beginning of 2011, which was the prelude to the current food crisis in Africa : “… Low-income, food-deficit countries have been hit hard by rising prices in recent years. Due to this rise, many of these countries have had to pay higher bills for food imports. Almost all African countries are net importers of cereals. The people most affected by the rise in prices are net food buyers, such as urban residents and small farmers, fishermen, herders and agricultural workers who do not produce enough food to meet their needs. The poorest of them spend more than 70-75 percent of their income on food purchases. ”(7).

The overcoming strategies

In a recent World Bank report, the so-called "coping strategies" are mentioned to combat hunger. These so-called "strategies" are nothing more than sacrifices that, in a food crisis situation, must be made by people to minimally satisfy their nutritional needs. To shed more light on this controversial issue, the body itself indicates that “The mechanisms for coping are not universal, but they normally involve common responses between families and countries. In the first instance, the answer involves some form of consumption adjustment (eating cheaper food and reducing the size and frequency of meals) and consumption normalization behaviors (borrowing money, buying food on credit, selling assets, and looking for more employment)… ”.

At first you might believe that the World Bank only reports on some desperate actions that people take in times of emergency. But really this corporation comes to justify them and sees them as one more tool to alleviate hunger, asserting that "Coping strategies can mitigate some of these risks, with options that generate very positive impacts on well-being ...".

The multilateral body accepts these behaviors, although it has no choice but to confess the reality and recognize that lower food consumption and the inability to afford a balanced diet lead to a lower intake of micronutrients. It also confesses that children, pregnant women and chronically ill people require a more nutritious and varied diet, and therefore have fewer coping mechanisms. However, the World Bank miraculously complements its "strategies for improvement" with the charity of the national states: "... public interventions must consider the behaviors of improvement, complement their positive effects and mitigate their deficiencies. For example, school feeding programs can reduce the incentive for parents to take their children out of school to work, as can conditional cash transfers. Thanks to these remittances, it may not be necessary to skip meals and with well-targeted nutritional programs, it is possible to reduce micronutrient insufficiency due to lack of meals. ”(8)

In short, some of the possible solutions proposed by the World Bank to the current food crises involve a reduction in food intake, the loan of money to buy it, and charity through food aid as a complement to the "strategies of overcoming ”. The speculators who continue to increase their profits in the futures markets, the hoarders who perpetuate the colonization of impoverished countries and the multinational agribusiness companies that maintain control over the food chain. Let people and nations continue to sacrifice themselves forever. The others to keep their lucrative businesses.

Vicent boix - Associate researcher of the Chair "Tierra Ciudadana - Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer", of the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Author of the book El parque de las hamocas. Article of the series "Food Crisis", see more here


1. SAVE THE CHILDREN and OXFAN: “A Dangerous Delay”, January 18, 2012.

2. FAO: “Hunger ends in Somalia but the situation remains very serious”, Nairobi, February 3, 2012.

3. FAO: “FAO Flash Appeal for the Horn of Africa”, Rome, 23 March 2012.

4. FAO: “It is urgent to help farmers and livestock keepers affected by the drought in the Sahel”, Rome, 9 March 2012.


6. KNAUP, H., SCHIESSL and M., SEITH Y.A .: “Hunger is listed on the stock market”, in El País, Madrid, Spain, September 4, 2011.

7. FAO: “Guide for countries affected by the rise in food prices”, Rome, January 15, 2011.

8. WORLD BANK: “Trend in world prices”, February 2012, at:….

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