6 December 2002
U.S. POLICIES CONTRIBUTE TO AFRICAN FAMINE - REPORT
excellent article - excerpts:
U.S. farm exports figures [following the introduction of GM crops is telling] are telling: corn exports to the EU dwindled from 426 million dollars in 1995 to one million dollars in 1999, for example.
"The U.S. GM grain stockpile, created through the vast, ongoing subsidy of U.S. agriculture, needs a home" - Dr Raj Patel, report author
U.S. Policies Contribute To African Famine - Report
The Black World Today
By Emad Mekay
IPS, Article Dated 12/5/2002
WASHINGTON - The United States and international financial institutions (IFIs) are partly to blame for the famine in Africa because they push policies that fatten the coffers of multi-national firms at the expense of local economies and poor people, says a leading civil society think tank.
According to a new report by the U.S-based Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy released Wednesday, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), backed by the financial and political muscle of the United States, have exacerbated famine in Africa through economic structural adjustment programmes.
These plans, argues the report, force indebted nations to pay down debt by cutting services for their citizens, exporting their crops, dismantling their crop reserves, and devaluing their currencies.
"Famine does not arise spontaneously with the failure of a harvest season; rather it is the outcome of a system that places greater importance upon the market than upon those going hungry," says the report, The Profits of Famine.
Food First policy analyst Raj Patel, its author, faults the United States for advocating such policies.
"The U.S. government has a 20-year history of first generating hunger through macro-economic policy that, while selling itself as 'austere', systematically enriches large corporations and impoverishes working families," he said.
"Then the government hen-feeds the hungry with the surplus food this policy produces."
The report argues that food aid serves as a de facto means of product support for U.S. farmers and that it also has an ''unimpeachable veneer of humanitarianism''.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) spends more than one billion dollars a year buying crops from U.S. agricultural corporations and shipping them to the starving.
Countries in southern and eastern Africa are in the throes of an unfolding famine that threatens millions of people.
On Tuesday, dozens of humanitarian groups said here that they were joining forces with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to launch a global campaign to assist more than 34 million people at risk of starvation in the country.
In eastern Africa (Ethiopia and Eritrea), the south (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland), as well as in western Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), more than 34 million people are facing food insecurity for the next six to eight months, the groups said.
If increased shipments of food aid are not delivered in time, African populations will face conditions similar to the Ethiopia famine of 1984-85, they added. "This is an unprecedented crisis, which calls for an unprecedented response," James Morris, executive director of WFP said on Tuesday. "The magnitude of the disaster unfolding in Africa has not yet been fully grasped by the international community."
But although many agree on the gravity of the situation, the point of contention has been over the real reasons behind the latest famine on the continent. The issue is important because it could determine future action to prevent further famines.
Some Western officials have said the famine is due to a convergence of multiple factors, some natural, such as drought and floods.
But other observers, including some African officials and civil society activists, say ''man-made'' reasons, like government policy and programmes promoted by the IFIs are at fault.
The Food First report is among few that point a finger directly at U.S. policies, along with those it promotes through its influential position - as a leading funder - in the IFIs.
In its report, Food First argues that while economic restructuring works to erode a country of its food sovereignty, it also aids U.S. multinationals to pry open new markets for genetically modified (GM) food, which is largely banned in the European Union and Japan.
"The U.S. GM grain stockpile, created through the vast, ongoing subsidy of U.S. agriculture, needs a home," said Patel.
"This grain cannot be sold to the EU or Japan because of their embargoes on genetically modified food for human consumption."
U.S. farm exports figures are telling: corn exports to the EU dwindled from 426 million dollars in 1995 to one million dollars in 1999, for example.
Zambia, bucking severe international pressure, has rejected U.S. food aid containing GM organisms, sending a clear signal that U.S. aid is part of the problem, says the report.
Zambia is instead seeking food aid from regional sources.
Although the United States condemned the move, the report argues that Zambia has "recognised that the problem is the lack of affordable food", rather than simply a food shortage.
According to the WFP, in neighbouring Lesotho there are no food shortages in the markets - but two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line and half are classified as destitute.
"Famine is not caused by a lack of food, but by poverty," says the report.
In bypassing the U.S. aid industry and sourcing grain from regional markets, Zambia - a country with a population under 10 million, most of them earning less than 1,000 dollars a year - is "regaining some control of its economy and farming system", it adds.