Donor dependency and the food donation that may really not be a donation at all

Sep 20, 2011

Zimbabwe's minister of agriculture, Joseph Made, has again recently had to perform what must be a humiliating function for someone occupying his portfolio: to receive handouts of food from foreigners. While many ministries are by their nature spending rather than revenue-generating entities, the agriculture ministry is supposed to fundamentally different; a productive department helping generate food and income for the nation . The problem isn't just 'drought,' but is also an unfortunately deeply embedded negative mindset that regards receiving 'aid' as normal.

''China has donated food worth US$14 million to Zimbabwe to help people in districts affected by drought last farming season,'' The Herald tells us.

Helping someone in need is noble, so the Chinese embassy officials who identified the need and chose to do their part in meeting it must be commended. The problem is the situation of normalizing aid dependency, which Zimbabwe and many/most African countries have done. When you here the word 'aid' used in connection with an African country and a non-African country, you can be sure that the African country is the one receiving the aid. It has become 'normal' for African countries to be recipients of aid.

There is almost always some part of Zimbabwe that receives less rain than is needed for adequate food self-sufficiency. In some areas, 'drought' is becoming the new normal. Knowing this, it is the responsibility of government to come up with various mitigation strategies, both at the farming level in an environment of  increasingly uncertain rain, as well as at the food aid level for communities in distress, if and when that becomes necessary.

Having to be given food aid by foreign governments year after year is a sign not so much of drought, but of a nation failing to take care of a most critical basic need, making sure the citizens are fed. 'Drought' has een used as the excuse for food shortfalls in Zimbabwe for 10 years now. That is no longer 'drought' but a new normal of reduced rainfall in the affected areas. Once you are honest with yourself by accepting that reality, you have a chance of finding ways to prevent that new reality necessarily causing hunger. When you continue to remain in denial by excusing yourself with thinking 'drought' every year, you suffer the humiliation of having to beg for food handouts, like Zimbabwe and many other African countries do year after year.

Furthermore, it is the ultimate humiliation for a minister of food production/agriculture to have to be officiating at the receipt of those food handouts. It means he has failed in his job! 2011 is, after all, more than 10 years since the land reform 'revolution' began, drought or no drought. That is long enough to not have to continue to be deficient in the country's main starch food, maize.  

Curiously, the Chinese 'gift' is in the form of rice and wheat, which Zimbabwe will actually pay for in equivalent amounts of maize! So it is not a 'donation' after all then! Zimbabwe receives the 'gift' of the 'luxury,' non-staple foods of rice and wheat, and pays for that 'donation' with its staple food of maize, which it does not have enough of for its people's needs! The 'donation' simply piles humiliation upon humiliation.

Perhaps The Herald left out some detail that would show how this 'donation' makes sense. In the absence of that detail, everything about this 'deal' looks suspicious and inappropriate.

The first order of business in changing this now deep seated trend of Africa always receiving 'donations,' even completely inappropriate ones, is not so much to hope for an end to the problems of need. There will always be unmet needs for one reason or another, 'drought' or something else.

What is really required is a mindset change amongst Africans, so that in times of need, 'aid' and 'donations' from foreigners are not the instinctive, automatic 'solutions' that are thought of. That corruption of our thinking faculties, and what it does to our dignity and sense of priorities, is what leads to you receiving a 'donation' of rice in exchange for your main food of maize, which you don't have enough of in the first place!

Mental donor dependency has done far more harm to Africans than has 'drought.'


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