Saturday, November 19, 2005

Starvation Results from IMF Policy

An estimated 5 million of Malawi's 12 million people are hungry this year, according to the United Nations. Hospitals also report higher rates of malnutrition and, with the harvest still five months away, unusually large numbers of hungry children are beginning to sicken and die in rural areas.

Malawian agriculture once appeared to have a brighter future. A state-run farm agency, although widely criticized as overbearing, sold reliable supplies of seeds and fertilizer, guaranteed prices for whatever was grown, and even reached distant areas that were not well intigrated into Malawi's market. For a time, the government actively sought ways to build irrigation networks drawing on the mighty Shire River that flows through the dry, destitute valley south of Blantyre, Malawi's commercial center.

But in the past 20 years, under pressure from the World Bank, IMF and donor nations, Malawi has liberalized its agricultural economy and dismantled the state-run agricultural system. The government's clumsy implementation of this change has led to complaints from farmers that the market was unable to deliver a more efficient and bountiful harvest. The government, under IMF pressure, also sold off state food reserves at times, leaving nothing for emergencies.

Meanwhile, various water schemes have remained on the drawing board. Today less than 1 percent of this southern African nation, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, is irrigated, and that land mainly belongs to commercial farms that grow tea, sugar and tobacco for export.

The IMF and World Bank's blind reliance on markets, their insistance on eliminating government run programs, and their ignorance of local conditions, is taking a terrible toll in human lives, leaving Malawi nothing but rising debt to show for it.


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