By Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher takes an alternative look at the Southern African famine – not – Famine, (on New Internationalist, Jan-Feb, 2003 by Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher).
THE food shortage in Africa is now widespread. But the drought that has accompanied this shortage is not peculiar to Africa – it is the condition of Africa that is peculiar and has created the famine conditions.
What is a drought? Even in the wettest of environments, if farmers plant crops in anticipation of average rainfall and it is below average, there will be shortages. If fluctuations from the average are to blame, then the solution is to maintain the supply of food through storage.
That is what is done in industrialized countries. Last year there was serious drought in the US – but, because the infrastructure needed to store and move food has been built, you do not hear of famine there.
In Africa the economy is almost entirely agrarian. When the harvests fail, people who lose their crops have nothing else. They cannot buy food from the market even if it’s available. So they go hungry. In Zambia there are huge amounts of cassava in the north of the country but it cannot be moved to the south where the hungry people are.
In most situations in Africa, just moving food would suffice to alleviate the shortages. In Ethiopia, while I cannot be sure that it would be sufficient for the whole year, certainly there is plenty of food at the moment. However, the Ethiopian Government is too poor to buy food locally, let alone transport it to the areas where there is a shortage. So, on current estimates, about 40 million people need food aid. (full text).