In 2002, five million of the 13 million residents of Malawi, a predominantly rural African country the size of Pennsylvania, were starving. Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and a number of rich countries that Malawi depends upon for aid (including the U.S.), pressured this tiny landlocked country to eliminate fertilizer and seed subsidies for its populace, even though the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. Desperate to feed their families, landowners could not afford to let their land lie fallow, so they planted without fertilizer, further stressing an already depleted soil. Over time, their depleted lands yielded less and less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty. By 2005, the country’s corn production was only 2.5 billion metric tons – the lowest in a decade.
The World Bank and Malawi’s donor countries, in their infinite wisdom, encouraged Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely and adhere, instead, to free market policies. The theory was that Malawi’s farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food. I’m no genius, but I don’t see the sense in growing cash crops for export in a country where the people can’t even feed themselves. That doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that Malawi lacks the necessary infrastructure, funds, and trained workforce required to effect the movement of such crops, much less the ability to control the corruption that would undoubtedly skim a large chunk of the profits from such a venture.
Fortunately, Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, decided to follow what the West practiced rather than what it preached. He reinstated Continue reading