Somalia: the Real Causes of Famine

Published on Global, by Michel Chossudovsky, July 21, 2011.

For the last twenty years, Somalia has been entangled in a “civil war” amidst the destruction of both its rural and urban economies. The country is now facing widespread famine.  According to reports, tens of thousands of people have died from malnutrition in the last few months. The lives of  several million people are threatened. The mainstream media casually attributes the famine to a severe drought without examining the broader causes.

An atmosphere of lawlessness, gang warfare and anarchy is also upheld as one of the major causes behind the famine. But who is behind the lawlessness and armed gangs? Somalia is categorized as a failed state, a country without a government. But how did it become a “failed state”? There is ample evidence of foreign intervention as well as covert support of armed militia groups. Triggering failed states is an integral part of US foreign policy. It is part of a military-intelligence agenda …//  

… Famine Formation in sub-Saharan Africa:  The Lessons of Somalia:

Somalia’s experience shows how a country can be devastated by the simultaneous application of food “aid” and macro-economic policy. There are many Somalias in the developing world and the economic reform package implemented in Somalia is similar to that applied in more than 100 developing countries. But there is another significant dimension: Somalia is a pastoralist economy, and throughout Africa both nomadic and commercial livestock are being destroyed by the IMF-World Bank program in much the same way as in Somalia. In this context, subsidized beef and dairy products imported (duty free) from the European Union have led to the demise of Africa’s pastoral economy. European beef imports to West Africa have increased seven-fold since 1984: “the low quality EC beef sells at half the price of locally produced meat. Sahelian farmers are finding that no-one is prepared to buy their herds”.”

The experience of Somalia shows that famine in the late 20th century is not a consequence of a shortage of food. On the contrary, famines are spurred on as a result of a global oversupply of grain staples. Since the 1980s, grain markets have been deregulated under the supervision of the World Bank and US grain surpluses are used systematically as in the case of Somalia to destroy the peasantry and destabilize national food agriculture. The latter becomes, under these circumstances, far more vulnerable to the vagaries of drought and environmental degradation.

Throughout the continent, the pattern of “sectoral adjustment” in agriculture under the custody of the Bretton Woods institutions has been unequivocally towards the destruction of food security. Dependency vis-à-vis the world market has been reinforced, “food aid” to sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than seven times since 1974 and commercial grain imports more than doubled. Grain imports for sub-Saharan Africa expanded from 3.72 million tons in 1974 to 8.47 million tons in 1993. Food aid increased from 910,000 tons in 1974 to 6.64 million tons in l993.

“Food aid”, however, was no longer earmarked for the drought-stricken countries of the Sahelian belt; it was also channeled into countries which were, until recently, more or less self-sufficient in food. Zimbabwe (once considered the bread basket of Southern Africa) was severely affected by the famine and drought which swept Southern Africa in 1992. The country experienced a drop of 90 percent in its maize crop, located largely in less productive lands.” Yet, ironically, at the height of the drought, tobacco for export (supported by modem irrigation, credit, research, etc.) registered a bumper harvest. While “the famine forces the population to eat termites”, much of the export earnings from Zimbabwe’s tobacco harvest were used to service the external debt.

Under the structural adjustment program, farmers have increasingly abandoned traditional food crops; in Malawi, which was once a net food exporter, maize production declined by 40 percent in 1992 while tobacco output doubled between 1986 and 1993. One hundred and fifty thousand hectares of the best land was allocated to tobacco .2′ Throughout the 1980s, severe austerity measures were imposed on African governments and expenditures on rural development drastically curtailed, leading to the collapse of agricultural infrastructure. Under the World Bank program, water was to become a commodity to be sold on a cost-recovery basis to impoverished farmers. Due to lack of funds, the state was obliged to withdraw from the management and conservation of water resources. Water points and boreholes dried up due to lack of maintenance, or were privatized by local merchants and rich farmers. In the semi-arid regions, this commercialization of water and irrigation leads to the collapse of food security and famine.

Concluding Remarks:

While “external” climatic variables play a role in triggering off a famine and heightening the social impact of drought, famines in the age of globalization are man-made. They are not the consequence of a scarcity of food but of a structure of global oversupply which undermines food security and destroys national food agriculture. Tightly regulated and controlled by international agri-business, this oversupply is ultimately conducive to the stagnation of both production and consumption of essential food staples and the impoverishment of farmers throughout the world. Moreover, in the era of globalization, the IMF-World Bank structural adjustment program bears a direct relationship to the process of famine formation because it systematically undermines all categories of economic activity, whether urban or rural, which do not directly serve the interests of the global market system.

(for footnotes see Chapter in the Globalization of Poverty): … (full long text).

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