African Food for Africans Who Are Starving?

In Ethiopia in 2003, for example, widespread drought occurred in the low-lying areas of the country and the very dry northern highlands. Some 12 million to 15 million people were at risk of hunger and starvation. But in the central and southern highlands of Ethiopia, farmers were producing a bumper crop of corn and other cereals. Yet with no market for the locally produced grains, prices collapsed.

If USAID could have purchased and helped distribute some of this excess, up to 500,000 small farmers would have benefited, as well as the millions at risk of starvation. But its only option was to import surplus food grain from the U.S.”

Right now I’m reading Timothy Egan’s book about the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s in which millions of pounds of wheat, a bumper crop grown on the Great Plains in 1929 and 1930, sat in or near silos and rotted because the prices went down, and the wheat was worth less than it cost to produce. I don’t understand how this happens exactly, especially when people in the cities began to have trouble feeding their families at about the same time because of the collapse of the U.S. economy.

Eventually, under FDR, the U.S. government did purchase some of the surplus wheat and other grain crops and distribute it to the hungry during the Great Depression. But the dust storms and the lack of income for those first two years caused the farmers to go bankrupt and their land to lie fallow.

Now in this Wall Street Journal article, two food experts say that we, the U.S., are causing much the same problem as what helped to create the Great Depression in our food aid program in Africa.

The Bush administration has urged, rightly, that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) be allowed to buy food locally, particularly in Africa, instead of only American-grown food.

The U.S. government currently buys grain and other foodstuffs from American farmers for free distribution in poor countries where a disaster has occurred, or sells it in food-deficit nations to generate funds for food-security development programs. Under the law, the food must be shipped almost exclusively on American vessels.”

Why is Congress opposing this change in policy? Why not buy food there for distribution there and use our own grain surpluses here? Or sell the grain “surpluses” to the highest bidder since there seems to be a food shortage that I keep reading about? Is there something I’m not seeing?

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