Food stories..

December 3, 2007

In Eastern Congo, there’s no drought and has been no locust. But a war, lack of infrastructure, torrential rainfall and hailstorms (yeah, hail, people) also create a dangerous situation. (link link).

Meanwhile in Northern Nigeria, as subsistence farmers face hunger and commercial farmers face creditors as the bad harvest seems to be confirmed.

And on the good news side, which is suprisingly politicized, right-wingers claim victory in Rwanda where the situation went from:

In the past, Rwandan governments forced these small farmers to grow coffee and to sell their beans to a government-controlled monopoly. Farmers were paid a set price that was always below the world market price for coffee. The price differential was kept by the government, which relied heavily on the revenue it then “earned” from exporting this coffee.


But today, things in Rwanda are very different. Farmers are no longer required to grow coffee. The old export monopoly has ended. Farmers are free to enter into contracts with foreign buyers and to negotiate prices themselves. The current government, headed by President Paul Kagame, has dismantled much of the old legal and regulatory framework for the coffee sector and has adopted a strategy of economic liberalization.

and the Left-wing blogosphere is loving this Malawi story:

Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.

But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.
Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.

Those two stories are both incomplete though. In Rwanda, the liberalization story doesn’t mention the fertilizer distribution, the training, the credit schemes, the government-organized cooperatives, the seed distribution, the washing and de-pulping units, the introduction of high-quality coffee and other active government policies that helped the farmers improve their lives. In Malawi, the complexity of the debate, the divergent attitudes of the donors and the past programs are ignored. That’s why I recommend this paper by Blessings Chinsinga of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Malawi . I have a hard time fundamentally disagreeing with the World Bank argument “that other strategies are more effective thansubsidies and price supports in ensuring small farmers can intensify production and adjust tomarket signals: efficient input distribution through publicly supported infrastructure, packaging standards, low cost financial services, improved research and extension, new risk management mechanisms etc. Public expenditures for these critical public roles continue to be crowded by input subsidies” in the long run. However, the short run is where hunger is felt.


3 Responses to “Food stories..”


    Hmmm, thank you for flushing this issue out a little. Will go take a look see at the recommended reading.

    BTW, got here from

  2. […] a president with no allies in a parliament divided between three parties has a lot to do with some policy decisions in […]

  3. […] do you make it corruption-proof ? December 29, 2007 I’ve mentionned the Malawi Fertilizer Subsidy program before. Well, the very first time I’ve read about it, one word made me nervous: […]

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