Skip to comments.Free trade, loss of support systems crippling food production in Africa
Posted on 02/15/2010 4:30:03 PM PST by decimon
CORVALLIS, Ore. Despite good intentions, the push to privatize government functions and insistence upon "free trade" that is too often unfair has caused declining food production, increased poverty and a hunger crisis for millions of people in many African nations, researchers conclude in a new study.
Market reforms that began in the mid-1980s and were supposed to aid economic growth have actually backfired in some of the poorest nations in the world, and just in recent years led to multiple food riots, scientists report today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a professional journal.
"Many of these reforms were designed to make countries more efficient, and seen as a solution to failing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure," said Laurence Becker, an associate professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. "But they sometimes eliminated critical support systems for poor farmers who had no car, no land security, made $1 a day and had their life savings of $600 hidden under a mattress.
"These people were then asked to compete with some of the most efficient agricultural systems in the world, and they simply couldn't do it," Becker said. "With tariff barriers removed, less expensive imported food flooded into countries, some of which at one point were nearly self-sufficient in agriculture. Many people quit farming and abandoned systems that had worked in their cultures for centuries."
These forces have undercut food production for 25 years, the researchers concluded. They came to a head in early 2008 when the price of rice a staple in several African nations doubled in one year for consumers who spent much of their income solely on food. Food riots, political and economic disruption ensued.
The study was done by researchers from OSU, the University of California at Los Angeles and Macalester College. It was based on household and market surveys and national production data.
There are no simple or obvious solutions, Becker said, but developed nations and organizations such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund need to better recognize that approaches which can be effective in more advanced economies don't readily translate to less developed nations.
"We don't suggest that all local producers, such as small farmers, live in some false economy that's cut off from the rest of the world," Becker said.
"But at the same time, we have to understand these are often people with little formal education, no extension systems or bank accounts, often no cars or roads," he said. "They can farm land and provide both food and jobs in their countries, but sometimes they need a little help, in forms that will work for them. Some good seeds, good advice, a little fertilizer, a local market for their products."
Many people in African nations, Becker said, farm local land communally, as they have been doing for generations, without title to it or expensive equipment and have developed systems that may not be advanced, but are functional. They are often not prepared to compete with multinational corporations or sophisticated trade systems. The loss of local agricultural production puts them at the mercy of sudden spikes in food costs around the world. And some of the farmers they compete with in the U.S., East Asia and other nations receive crop supports or subsidies of various types, while they are told they must embrace completely free trade with no assistance.
"A truly free market does not exist in this world," Becker said. "We don't have one, but we tell hungry people in Africa that they are supposed to."
This research examined problems in Gambia and Cote d'Ivoire in Western Africa, where problems of this nature have been severe in recent years. It also looked at conditions in Mali, which by contrast has been better able to sustain local food production - because of better roads, a location that makes imported rice more expensive, a cultural commitment to local products and other factors.
Historically corrupt governments continue to be a problem, the researchers said.
"In many African nations people think of the government as looters, not as helpers or protectors of rights," Becker said. "But despite that, we have to achieve a better balance in governments providing some minimal supports to help local agriculture survive."
An emphasis that began in the 1980s on wider responsibilities for the private sector, the report said, worked to an extent so long as prices for food imports, especially rice, remained cheap. But it steadily caused higher unemployment and an erosion in local food production, which in 2007-08 exploded in a global food crisis, street riots and violence. The sophisticated techniques and cash-crop emphasis of the "Green Revolution" may have caused more harm than help in many locations, the study concluded.
Another issue, they said, was an "urban bias" in government assistance programs, where the few support systems in place were far more oriented to the needs of city dwellers than their rural counterparts.
Potential solutions, the researchers concluded, include more diversity of local crops, appropriate tariff barriers to give local producers a reasonable chance, subsidies where appropriate, and the credit systems, road networks, and local mills necessary to process local crops and get them to local markets.
Editor's Note: Some digital images are available to illustrate this story. Local rice production: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4351748948/ Jobs at rice mill: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4351755134/ De-husking local rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4351762412/
Free trade is not the problem, your right. Foreign food aid that puts local farmers out of the market is part of the problem too.
It would be interesting to see how they view Zimbabwe where a self-sufficient agricultural system has been ruined by the actions of the government expropriating farms.
Somehow the description in this article would be used by Marxists to explain why the newly enfranchised farmers were unable to compete. Is that what this article is about, providing cover for Mugabe and friends?
Burning your food crops for fuel does a pretty nasty job of distorting the global food market.
Without these, any economy is floating in the thin air, with no reliable tether to reality.
I could imagine output might siffer.
I did a Yahoo search on James Shikwate (if I got his name spelled right) and see he's been nearly forgotten. He was the economist who said in a Spiegel article something like, "For God's sake, stop helping us!"
Has this socialized agriculture been applied in more than Zimbabwe since 1980? The truth about reduction in agricultural output could be somewhere in the middle. I just wouldn’t trust a study from liberal academia to throw rocks at Mugabe and his friends.
That and maybe just possibly kleptocrats who are driving farmers off their land and terrorizing anyone who’s honest including farmers.
They might have done a bit of that in South Africa and possibly Venezuela. I know it was being “debated” in those countries.
Sounds like a genius.
The problem in Africa is corrupt government.
From what I recall of him, he would fit right in here. Free-market economist.
It's sad to see that so many people here can recognize how crony capitalism has crushed manufacturing here in the U.S., without seeing how it is doing the same in places like Africa.
No doubt that is part of the problem, but there are hard-working and ambitious people everywhere, who try to succeed despite whatever handicaps they face. The question is: are we going to play the free-traitor game, or are we going to help the little people? It’s the same choice we face in this country, where crony capitalism is crushing small business and the middle class.
It’s hard to argue that economic freedom is the cause of hunger, when none of the most hungry countries have economic freedom
African nations with the most rapidly increasing hunger (increasing Global Hunger Index, 1990-2009):
Zimbabwe (2nd least free economy in the world, after North Korea)
Eritrea (4th least free economy in the world, after Cuba)
Democratic Republic of Congo (8th)
Siera Leone (23rd)
Zambia (79th out of 179)
Rankings according to Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index. Of these, all but Zambia had decreasing economic freedom. Zambia has the 11th worst score on the Global Competitiveness Index.
I’d like to see one African country become the African South Korea. Hardly perfect but no country is.
OK. Do you think China and Vietnam are free and non-corrupt societies? Yet the business elites of the West think it is just wonderful to trade with those oligopolies, where communist party elites run the “enterprises.” I would much rather support some small entrepreneur in Africa than some “company” run by commies in China.
India’s early attempts at pulling themselves into the 20th century involved the use of one person sewing machines. They attempted to replicate the “sweat shop” model of rooms of people sewing on individual machines. It didn’t work out so well.
Someone could have easily “overlooked” the complicity of the Indian governmental policies and concluded that “free markets” don’t work so well for Indian workers. And the answer for India WASN’T that their fledgling sewing industry needed tariff protection.
I wonder if this is what is going on with this paper.
Absolutely not. And according to the reports I was reading, India (socialist in some states, but free in others) actually had LESS starvation that China, despite having a smaller economy. How’s that for irony? Socialists argue, “well, we might not have as much wealth as capitalist states, but we distribute the wealth more fairly.” Yet “socialist” means “kleptocratic.” A socialist state is one in which armed thugs take what they want from who they want for whatever purpose they want. And so even though China is wealthier than India, because it is a thugocracy, the people are more poorly fed.
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