This year’s Blog Action Day is dedicated to the issue of food. The most unsexy of issues. Seriously. War will always triumph over famine in media coverage and listeners’ attention. That’s just the way the world seems to work. Unless you personally (that’s right, you reading this right now) personally have a growling stomach and no avenue or mechanism of support to resolve that problem, be it right now, today, or in the next week, month and year – then you probably don’t care. If an earthquake happens tomorrow, killing hundreds or thousands, and generating an unnatural level of destruction, then the people of the world will generously move to lend their support, and even then, such movement is never nearly enough. But when famine breaks out somewhere, when a country is no longer able to feed its own people, there’s very little interest generated unless it is fueled by celebrities.
And this is all despite the facts. The kind of facts the paint a picture of a dire reality. I’ve always thought that people are always generally less interested in what’s happening “somewhere else”. As long as you have food on your table, what do you care for others that don’t in a foreign country? Maybe, for this issue to be taken seriously, a local context needs to be applied. But even then, the results are not always possible.
When it comes to the Arab world, Somalia tops the list. In fact, Somalia probably tops the list anywhere. Four million people are in crisis with 750,000 people at risk of death in the coming four months. For my generation, I believe we came in to this world with Somalia dominating the famine issue. I don’t recall a year when Somalia wasn’t suffering from a lack of food.
But closer to home, I was quite shocked (perhaps not so much) of a recent report that the volume of wheat the Kingdom produces is enough to last the country 17 days. Not weeks or months or years. Days.
To any Jordanian who knows the importance of bread to the daily diet knows the kind of catastrophe this spells. Anyone who lives here and has experienced the impact of major instability in the region can have locally, knows the extent to which this descent is disastrous. The Kingdom produces only 5% of its wheat needs, everything else is imported.
Agriculture in the country contributes some 3% of the GDP and has declined over the past 20 years. This doesn’t need economic analysis as much as it requires a person to drive through arable farmland where families used to produce enough food to not only sustain themselves but to earn a living, and see it vacant. The recipe for disaster consists of a wide variety of ingredients: less and less water, increasing desertification, increasing population growth, increasing migration (Iraq refugees for example), economic policies favoring imported goods, political policies encouraging comfortable government jobs over agriculture, and a general discerning attitude towards the agricultural sector. And on and on and on. Even Jordan’s Sudan landleasing deal from back in the 1990’s has experienced failure after the latter country began taking back its land based on Jordan’s inability to deliver its side of the bargain.
And in the meantime, we continue to suffer from price shocks, reflected in the rising price of food in the Kingdom, and the rising debt the government garners from subsidizing some staple goods.
The problems are plentiful, but what is needed is a conversation about the solutions. What is needed are ways of making this issue one that plays a dominant role in how we think as citizens. The divide between rich and poor is growing, and as it does, their respective bubbles become increasingly hardened. These bubbles need to be broken and pertinent national issues that govern our survival, specifically food and water, need to become exactly that, national. On everyone’s mind. This is the only feasible first step.
So the natural question to ask is: how do we get there? How do we make this a national issue; a national conversation?