West Africa’s “slow-motion” famine
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World Bank Famine in Niger
In 2005 a food crisis hit Niger. Out of a population of 12 million, 3.6 million went hungry and 800,000 children faced starvation. But activists in Niger claim that the famine was not caused by drought. “This is a structural famine. A permanent famine,” says journalist Moussa Tchangari. “It was caused by 20 years of structural adjustment programs.”
According to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), agricultural production was only 11% below the 5-year average and was actually higher than levels in 2001-02, when there was no food crisis. The real problem, according to FEWS, was that food prices rose between 75-80%.
Moussa Tchangari claims that, “The root of the problem is that for more than 20 years, neoliberal policies have been forced on this country. . . the international financial institutions encouraged export agriculture, so that now we do not produce enough food to feed the population.”
Like many African countries, Niger was pressured by the IMF, World Bank, and EU development agencies to dismantle government services and to move from subsistance agriculture to export agriculture – to grow cash crops instead of food.
In the middle of the famine, Niger continued to export food. Millions starved and tens of thousands of chlidren died while the markets remained full of food they could not afford to buy.
In the first months of the crisis, the government of Niger and the UNs World Food Program refused to distribute free food to the population because interfering with the free market could disrupt Niger’s development out of poverty.
Tchangari believes that Niger’s problems have been caused by this model of development and that the country needs a different aproach. “The solution is to put in place an agricultural policy that can insure food self-sufficiency. It is possible. . . It is a question of political will.”