View Full Version : Ending famine by ignoring the experts

05-08-2008, 12:09 AM
This 2007 story (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/world/africa/02malawi.html?_r=1&ei=5087&em=&en=8767515f8a8ac086&ex=1196830800&pagewanted=print) will sound very familiar to longtime watchers of the World Bank in Africa. Malawi jettisoned ridiculous WB policies advocated to fulfill neoliberal economic theory and instead adjusted to realistic local conditions. Result: less malnutrition and starvation.

A similar tale is told by Peter Griffiths in The Economist's Tale (http://www.amazon.com/Economists-Tale-Consultant-Encounters-Hunger/dp/184277185X). An excellent reminder of how Robert Mugabe is not the only man starving Africans to death on the continent. However, these others manage to not only maintain the Western world's respect, but indeed do so on our dime and in our name.

Tom Odom
05-08-2008, 12:39 PM
But Alan Eastham, the American ambassador to Malawi, said in a recent interview that the subsidy program had worked “pretty well,” though it displaced some commercial fertilizer sales.

Hmmm that would be "Big Al" as we called him in K-Town--once tried to send Stan to the airport late at night to rescue some inbound folks beind my back. Reason: it was dangerous as hell and Stan was in the view of this guy and his boss, expendable. Stan did the right thing. Called me and woke me up; I engaged Al and the Charge. Stan went back home, leaving the mission to State, who I recall waited until morning.

But back to the issue. This is always a balancing act and sitting on either end of the see saw screws the pooch. If the subsidies continue indefinitely then you get gross inefficiences (like warehouses of cheese). Without some sunbidies and just basic common sense, then you turn your own economy into a massive slash and burn operation. You are simply growing to sell crops abroad which face international market pressures you have no control over so you can import food. Rwanda went through this in the mid to late 80s with the collapse of tea markets.

here is how Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malawi)describes it:

Malawi's economic reliance on the export of agricultural commodities renders it particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as declining terms of trade and drought. High transport costs, which can comprise over 30% of its total import bill, constitute a serious impediment to economic development and trade. Malawi must import all its fuel products. Paucity of skilled labor; difficulty in obtaining expatriate employment permits; bureaucratic red tape; corruption; and inadequate and deteriorating road, electricity, water, and telecommunications infrastructure further hinder economic development in Malawi. However, recent government initiatives targeting improvements in the road infrastructure, together with private sector participation in railroad and telecommunications, have begun to render the investment environment more attractive.

In Malawi's case its big cash crop was tobacco as well as tea and sugar. Heavy planting of tobacco without soil replenishment is a formula for famine.