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Show Africa’s potential not just its problems

"Let's make South Sudan famous for its epic landscapes, not hunger" - one of a series of new Oxfam adverts. Photo: Corbis
"Let's make South Sudan famous for its epic landscapes, not hunger"

The overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Africa to the British public is undermining popular support for efforts to bring an end to hunger on the continent, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

Oxfam’s claim is based on the findings of a survey of public attitudes commissioned in support of the charity’s new Food for All advertising campaign that launches today.

When asked to select what they thought were the three most pressing problems facing Africa in 2013, almost half (47%) of more than 2,000 people surveyed by YouGov identified hunger. Nearly 3 in 4 (74%) of respondents thought it was ultimately possible to bring an end to hunger across the continent, but only 1 in 5 believed they could play an active role in solving the problem in Africa and elsewhere.

The survey suggests over-exposure to negative media and advertising portrayals of Africa and developing countries in other parts of the world may be contributing to this sense of disempowerment. Respondents described this portrayal as ‘depressing, manipulative and hopeless’, with 43% of respondents saying it made them feel that conditions for people living in the developing world would never improve. Three out of five of those polled said they were or had become desensitised to images depicting issues such as hunger, drought and disease and almost 1 in 4 (23%) admitted they turned away when confronted by such images.

In response, Oxfam’s Food for All campaign – created by RKCR/Y&R – aims to re-energise British public support for the fight to end hunger in Africa and around the world, on the grounds that while “nearly 900 million people remain hungry, there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone”.

The campaign, which breaks across newspapers, outdoor and digital media, focuses on Africa because of its overwhelming association in the public’s mind with hunger and deprivation. In another recent Oxfam poll when asked to name “the first things that come to mind when you think of Africa”, just over half (55%) of 1,295 respondents spontaneously mentioned issues relating to hunger/famine and/or poverty.

"Let's make Kenya famous for its food markets, not food shortages... " - one of a series of new Oxfam adverts. Photo: Corbis
"Let's make Kenya famous for its food markets, not food shortages"

Food for All comprises three creative executions, each showing an arrestingly beautiful image of Africa beneath the caption “Let’s make Africa famous for its stunning countryside/ epic landscapes / food markets. Not hunger/food shortage.” Members of the public will be asked to visit  to learn more about Oxfam’s work on food security or to text FOOD to 70066 to donate £5.

Chief Executive, Barbara Stocking, said:

“Oxfam has led the way in drawing attention to the plight of Africa’s most vulnerable people and we aren’t trying to gloss over the problems that still beset so many of them, particularly levels of malnutrition that remain stubbornly high. But we’ve come a long way since the 1980s and Band Aid’s Do They Know it’s Christmas? We need to shrug off the old stereotypes and celebrate the continent’s diversity and complexity, which is what we are attempting with this campaign.

“The relentless focus on ongoing problems at the expense of a more nuanced portrait of the continent, is obscuring the progress that is being made towards a more secure and prosperous future. If we want people to help fight hunger we have to give them grounds for hope by showing the potential of countries across Africa; it’s a natural instinct to turn away from suffering when you feel you can do nothing to alleviate it.”

Alongside its survey, Oxfam is also today publishing a briefing note on development progress in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa Is Wide Awake But Still Hungry underlines that countries in sub-Saharan Africa have enjoyed annual economic growth averaging 4.6% since the turn of the century. This has led to reductions in poverty levels and the rate of mortality amongst children under 5, which has dropped from 17.4% to 12.1% in the years since 1990, with the pace of decline continuing to accelerate.

Data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that over the same period there has been a marked improvement in food supply in many African countries, with the FAO rating the calories available from the average daily supply of food across sub-Saharan Africa as being 9% above the minimum level required, compared to only just sufficient in 1990. Of 45 sub-Saharan African countries with available data, 31 (69%) are deemed to have sufficient supply to ensure adequate nutrition for all their citizens, with 14 (31%) below average; 9 of those with below adequate supply are within 5% of an acceptable level.

Countries making notable progress in food supply include Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia, which in 1994 was 27% beneath the level of supply necessary to meet the requirements of its people, but is now 2% from being able to supply an adequate average diet to all its citizens. The data also shows the prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 33% to 27% of the population of sub Saharan Africa since 1991.

Oxfam’s briefing acknowledges, however, that chronic undernourishment remains a major problem across Africa and that progress to eradicate it has stalled relative to most other regions globally. Data from the FAO reveals that despite improvements in food supply the number of people going hungry on the continent has actually increased by 37% in the last 20 years – in line with the general growth in population – predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa where 230 million are deemed to be undernourished.

The report cites two reasons why the increased availability of calories has not led to a reduction in the absolute numbers of Africans classified as under-nourished. A lack of investment and political support for small scale agriculture means that productivity remains relatively weak, with cereal yields in African lower than anywhere else in the world over the last five decades. What food there is available is also unfairly distributed, with poorer households typically having to spend up to two-thirds of their income on food.

As part of its Grow campaign, Oxfam has outlined measures that will help deliver greater food security for millions worldwide including: investment in small farms in the developing world; international agreement on climate change; better regulation of land deals to prevent land grabs; and, ending bio-fuels mandates.

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