Markets = Famine (

John M Cox coxj at
Wed Jul 9 07:59:56 MDT 2003

Markets = Famine

by Yves Engler
July 08, 2003

If the western mainstream media told the truth about Africa, stories in
our newspapers would be much different.

"Market ideology causes Ethiopian Famine," the New York Times headline
would blare. "130 years running and imperialists still mix with bad
weather to kill millions," the Globe and Mail would report.

Instead, when the mainstream media decides to take notice of the 12
million Ethiopians who are currently desperate for international food aid,
we get simplistic reports about bad weather and the kindness of Western
aid agencies.

Interestingly, the only mainstream media outlets that come close to
telling the real, more complicated story about Ethiopia and other African
countries are business newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and
Financial Times.

Stories found in the business press are a bit more helpful in explaining
the causes of famines. (Capitalists seem to value honest reporting when it
comes to knowledge about where to invest their money.) Over the past
couple of years aid institutions controlled by Western governments have
pressured Ethiopia to eliminate government intervention in the
agricultural sector. The WSJ reports that, "the government, under pressure
from international lenders and aid donors, was pulling out of the grain
markets in favor of an under-funded and inexperienced private sector.

However, little provision was made to support this fledgling free market
with storage facilities, transport and financing." (July 1, 2003) At first
sight reductions in government involvement doesnt appear to be a problem
since Ethiopian "grain harvests in the latter half of the 1990s averaged
11 million tons annually, about four million tons more than in the 1980s.
In the bumper years of 2000 and 2001, harvests hit more than 13 million
tons. (WSJ July 1)" Improved harvests concealed the wrongheaded nature of
market-based policies. Larger harvests also exacerbated the eventual food

As the state reduced its role as a price stabilizer, farmers began to
produce less, since big yields brought less income. "A 220-pound bag of
corn that could go for $10 in good times was getting as little as about
$2and that was less than half of the standard production costs." (WSJ,
July 1) Farmers who produced for sale decreased their production or
focused on subsistence crops.

Foreign aid itself helped fuel the drop in grain prices. Since Ethiopias
much-publicized famine in 1984 (which was itself, in large part the
consequence of inhumane internal politics) countries have given the
country significant amounts of food aid. Too often, however, domestic
interests in the donor nations appear to trump the interests of
Ethiopians. The WSJ reported that "AID [US Agency for International
Development], for example, has provided an average of about $220 million
in food aid annually in recent years, compared with only about $4 million
in agriculture-development aid."

(July 1) American aid is not used to purchase local foods for the
starving, something that would stimulate the long-term viability of local

Rather U.S. agribusiness views Ethiopia as an ideal dumping ground for
their excess stock....


John Cox
Chapel Hill, NC

This week in history:

July  6, 1907 Frida Kahlo born
July  7, 1887 Marc Chagall born
July  7, 1906 Satchel Paige born
July 11, 1897 Blind Lemon Jefferson born
July 12, 1904 Pablo Neruda born
July 14, 1789 storming of Bastille, Paris
July 14, 1896 Buenaventura Durruti born
July 14, 1912 Woody Guthrie born

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