Starving Africa with aid

By By Matteo Jensen

By Matteo Jensen

In the South Park episode “Starvin’ Marvin,” Sally Struthers appears on daytime television, tearfully soliciting donations to feed starving children. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, she wails, you can feed a starving child. But Cartman exposes this as chicanery. The media campaign is merely a ploy for Struthers to get free food by exploiting the cause of starving Ethiopians.

In reality, a similar fraud is being perpetrated across the world in the form of food relief.

Fifty years ago, the Green Revolution simultaneously raised agricultural production to new heights and quelled fears of a Malthusian population crisis. However, too many people are still starving. These people are increasingly concentrated in one region — the colonially carved-up continent of Africa. Africa is at the epicenter of this disaster, while rising giants such as India and China are increasingly able to feed their huge populations.

But this disaster is not the creation of capitalist greed, nor has it been caused by a failure of productive capacity. Instead, it has been perversely created by misguided, but sincere, efforts to bring the world’s poorest people out of poverty.

Aid — though often an effort to assuage rich-world guilt for the dual sins of imperialism and slavery — is meant to alleviate the burden borne by the world’s most impoverished people. However, most aid has the opposite effect. It creates conflict, slows growth and builds dependence upon donor money. This creates a self-defeating downward spiral.

Food aid, which seems so innocuous, has many devastating effects. First, it is essential to realize that food aid is not generosity. World farmers are highly subsidized. The United States, the European Union and Japan are the worst offenders. Every five years these nations pass complex agriculture bills that make the Chinese five-year plans look amateur in comparison. The bills subsidize everything from corn syrup to soy. These subsidies create incentives to overproduce. This surplus of food is what is donated in times of need.

Second, food aid rarely reaches the most desperate and hungry. Although a large influx of food has the potential to feed a large population, this potential often goes unrealized. Under an ideal system, where aid is distributed fairly, this food could be beneficial to many families. However, most of the world’s poorest nations lack good governance and institutional transparency. In addition, aid distribution systems are tainted by corruption. This lack of accountability enables influential power brokers to obtain most of the benefits from food aid while millions continue to starve.

Third, any benefits of food aid are quickly mitigated by a dramatic decline in commodity prices. This makes it impossible for many of the world’s poorest farmers to earn a living and feed their families. Each year, thousands of families are uprooted as these farmers migrate to urban areas in search of work. When they arrive, however, they do not find opportunity. Instead, these economic immigrants are forced into the vast slums that have arisen from Kibera to Cairo. These slums are breeding grounds for deadly diseases and extremism that threaten to disrupt the region and the world if left unchecked. Meanwhile, much of the land these immigrants abandoned is soon swallowed up by the encroaching desert. Driven to destitution and desperation, these people are the victims of First World commodity dumping.

It should be obvious that African leaders need no help from the Group of Eight to run their economies into the ground and starve their people. One notable example is Robert Mugabe, president and longstanding despot of Zimbabwe. This tiny nation in the Great Lakes region was once known as Africa’s breadbasket. Yet Mugabe’s chronic mismanagement has devastated his nation, turning it from one of the most productive nations to an economic basket case, plagued by plummeting food production and soaring inflation rates that top 10,000 percent a year.

It is time to redirect the money we’re lavishing on First World farmers who are not capable of competitive production in global commodity markets. These funds must be spent where they will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. This will lower prices for consumers across the globe, including Americans. It will also rejuvenate commodity-based economies in many nations, which through good management can be taught to save surpluses and diversify their economies as they continue to grow.

Instead of propping up farmers and large corporations, First World governments should recast the most productive farmers as agricultural experts. It could then spend the subsidy money to send them to the developing world. There, they can use their expertise as agricultural experts to teach good farming practices such as crop rotation, water-saving irrigation techniques and prevention of topsoil erosion. This educational process will have greater long-term effects than any amount of food aid that can be provided and will provide eye-opening experiences for millions of Americans.

Saving Africa requires more than emotional appeals on daytime television showcasing starving children. We will all be better off if Africans are well-fed, educated and adding vitality to the world economy. Keeping them addicted to aid denies them that capability. It is time to empower Africa.

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