Be cautious about blaming aid culture

I WOULD like to respond to your article “Aid culture blamed for Niger famine” (Irish Examiner, August 1), and some of the views expressed.

Self Help Development International agrees with the view that crisis aid is not the answer but that long-term solutions are needed to combat the recurring crises on the African continent.

Nonetheless, commentators should be cautious about blaming an “aid culture” for the famine in Niger - as this sentiment infers that those who support the many humanitarian efforts underway in Africa are in some way contributing to the problems.

There are many complex explanations, both historic and contemporary, man-made and natural, for the crises which exist in Africa but, in our view, aid is not something which can be ‘blamed’. The recent Make Poverty History campaign made a strong case for more and better aid, and support for agriculture and rural development should be a cornerstone of this.

Self Help is an Irish agency engaged in long-term sustainable development programmes which give local communities the ability to help themselves. For more than 20 years we have been advocating development solutions that build the capacity of African countries as the only viable long-term answer to the problems of the continent - problems which are in the most part borne out of conditions of extreme poverty.

It is easy to be sceptical about the impact of aid over the decades, but the reality of poverty demands us to take a more objective and analytical stance. We need to understand the underlying causes of poverty, and to search for long-term solutions.

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP, employs 67% of the total labour force, and is the main source of livelihood for poor people. Growth in agriculture has consistently been shown to be more beneficial to the poor than growth in other sectors. Despite this, attention to agriculture, in terms of policy commitment and levels of investment, has declined within both international donor and developing country policies and programmes.

We urge both policy makers and the public to look to the longer term - and support initiatives such as those advocated by Self Help Development International, so that Africans can build a future free from famine and need.

George Jacob

Communications Officer

Self Help Development International

Hacketstown

Co Carlow

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