Food Emergency: How the World Bank and IMF Have Made African Famine Inevitable
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The same holds true for the agricultural sector. SAPs initiated the collapse of African food security, diverting land, water and labor away from small-scale farming toward the production of cash crops, whose earnings were used to pay off debt.
Ironically, as they demanded that African states eliminate subsidies for small-scale farmers, the United States and Europe continued to provide their agricultural sectors with billions of dollars in subsidies, forcing peasant farmers to compete with an influx of cheap, subsidized commercial staples from the west—clearly a losing battle.
In 2004, Project Censored described this U.S. practice as “ underselling starving nations ,” a process that ensures U.S. commodities cost less than their small-scale counterparts, essentially pricing local farmers out of the market. Walden Bello points out that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture cemented these lopsided policies, making developing countries the permanent dumping grounds for cheap surplus production from the global north. Thus, between 1995 and 2004, agriculture subsidies in developed countries went from $367 billion to $388 per year.
The few subsidies the IMF did permit were strictly reserved for African commercial agriculture goods for export to Europe and America. For Kenya, where a quarter of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, this meant ditching government support for subsistence farmers and diverting resources to the production of raw exports (cash crops) for the west, like tea, coffee, tobacco and cut flowers. Earnings from exports were then used to service the country’s massive debt.
After investigating the impacts of SAPs on Kenya’s struggle with malnutrition, Catherine Mezzacappa concludes, “Through their role in agricultural policy and social spending, structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank have contributed to the deepening of poverty and perpetuation of malnutrition in Kenya,” a country where “the leading causes of death among children are preventable and can be linked to malnutrition.”
As environmental activist Vandana Shiva put it in her book Stolen Harvest , “The hungry starve as scarce land and water are diverted to provide luxuries for rich consumers in Northern countries.”
Somalia’s Road to Famine
But for Somalia, the outcome was far worse, because the application of these neoliberal policies coincided with U.S. meddling and military intervention.
Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalization of Poverty , explains that despite frequent droughts, Somalia’s economy, led by small-scale farmers and pastoralists or “nomadic herdsmen,” was self-sufficient in food well into the 1970s. The pastoralists proved quite successful as livestock produced 80 percent of Somalia’s export earnings through 1983. But under SAPs, veterinarian services for livestock were privatized, making it difficult and unaffordable for herders in rural grazing areas to access animal healthcare, ultimately devastating pastoralists who made up half of the population. As for agriculture, the cheap imports of rice and wheat displaced small farmers, and resources were diverted to grow export commodities. Worst of all, “Water points and boreholes dried up due to lack of maintenance, or were privatized by local merchants and rich farmers,” due to the privatization of water resources.
The impact of structural adjustment on Somalia’s food security was compounded by American and Soviet meddling during the Cold War. Stephen Zunes , professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, explains that Somalia was initially a client state of the Soviet Union in the early '70s until Somali dictator Said Barre switched sides following a military coup in Ethiopia that replaced the U.S.-backed Ethiopian monarchy with a Soviet-backed “Marxist-Leninist” government.