The Paradox of Bread Basket Starving Ethiopia

The Paradox of Bread Basket Starving Ethiopia

Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia September, 2002



           When I read "Ethiopia renews drought warning" on the BBC website on September 3, 2002, I was not

           surprised at all. On the contrary, the recurrence of famine like a relapsing fever was thematic centrality

           to all my previous writings on the seemingly permanent hunger in Ethiopia. Readers may vividly

           remember that only few months ago I was compelled to substantiate my arguments on the prevalence

           of famine while responding to a myopic and opportunist official/intellectual who shamelessly asserted

           that "there is no famine in Ethiopia and there will be none in the future."*


           Now, all of a sudden the National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) publicly

           declared that the drought and/or famine are "problems of considerable magnitude …especially in parts

           of the Ogaden, the northern Tigray region and parts of the south."


           This article is not aimed at those ignoramus Ethiopian officials who by their vainglorious lies wanted to

           conceal the famine in the past, although I knew from day one that their lines of argument were

           incoherent, incongruous, infantile and with a babbling tone. Beyond the ambiguously suspended (and

           in fact bankrupt) government policy, the purpose of this article is to unravel the irony of starving

           Ethiopia and the culprit behind the famine.


           In the early 1980s a book entitled Seeds of Famine (by Frankie and Chasen) appeared on the

           academic fora and I have used it for my research and my class. Apart from the revelations of classified

           information on the causes of drought and famine, the authors' analysis of the Sahelian famine of

           1974/75 is unsurpassed by any other text on the subject matter. Seeds of Famine is a groundbreaking

           documentation of the real causes of famine in West Africa.


           On September 2000, Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa came out with his

           highly critical, alarming, and altogether breathtaking analysis in his "Sowing the Seeds of Famine in

           Ethiopia." Professor Chossudovsky is perhaps influenced or inspired by Frankie and Chasen to have

           used a similar title for his discourse on famine. However, it is abundantly clear that the themes of

           'genetically modified' (GM)** seeds and 'globalization' pertaining to the Ethiopian famine are entirely

           original, and for this reason I will thematically highlight some of the important points he makes in his



           Chassudovsky argues that " the 'economic therapy' imposed under IMF-World Bank jurisdiction is in

           large part responsible for triggering famine and social devastation in Ethiopia and the rest of the

           sub-Saharan Africa, wreaking the peasant economy and impoverishing millions of people." For leaders

           of beggar nations like Ethiopia, his thesis is unacceptable and by way of their abhorrent rejection, they

           contend that the culprit behind the drought and famine are "poor rains last year, the failure of rains

           earlier this year," and "the late start of rains expected in June are being blamed for the crisis."


           There is no doubt that the Ethiopian landscape suffers from ecological imbalance and environmental

           stress (due to decades of massive deforestation ), but poor rains alone cannot cause continuous poor

           harvest. Apart from climate, the human dimension and the politics of famine must be considered

           seriously, and in this respect, although one may pose and say the phenomenon of famine is not

           wholly attributable to the world institutions, there is some truth to it. Chossudovsky and many other

           experts have provided us with ample evidence that Ethiopia is a country that should not have starved at

           all, and here are the facts:


           "Ethiopia produces more than 90% of its consumption needs," argues Chossudovsky, and "yet at the

           height of the crisis the nationwide food deficit for 2000 was estimated by the Food Agricultural

           Organization (FAO) at 764,000 metric tons of grain representing a shortfall of 13 kilos per person per

           annum. In Amhara, grain production (1999-2000) was twenty percent in excess of consumption needs.

           Yet 2.8 million in Amhara (representing 17% of the regions population) became locked into famine

           zones and are "at risk" according to the FAO." By the same token, despite 600 million tons of surplus

           in the Oromiya region, the latter was classified "at risk" too.


           Another important revelation that Chossudovsky presents is the re-importation of Ethiopian exported

           grain as famine relief to starving Ethiopians. "Close to one million tons of the 1996 harvest was

           exported, an amount which would have been amply sufficient (according to FAO figures) to meet the

           1999-2000 emergency. In fact the same food staple which had been exported (namely maize) was

           re-imported barely a few months later. The world market had confiscated Ethiopia's grain reserves."


           The confiscation of Ethiopian surplus by international agribusiness cartels such as Archer Daniels

           Midland (ADM), Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Cargill Inc. is of course the systematic crippling of Ethiopia and

           the cynical portrayal of the country as a famine-prone nation. This image of Ethiopia is not entirely

           false. The country is poor and famine was there, as part of the Ethiopian fabric, long before the cartels

           descended onto Ethiopia, and to be sure the international cartels are not solely responsible for the

           Ethiopian famine, although, I gather, they could have played a crucial role in alleviating the condition of

           the Ethiopian peasants. The wherewithal of these magnates is not questionable, but their moral

           platitudes could be frightening.


           The sad encounter that Ethiopians face is that their tribulations are largely contributed by domestic

           politics. It is interesting to note that the present government of Ethiopia disbanded a biodiversity

           program in agriculture that had been initiated by the Derg regime. Chossudovsky tells us that the

           "Dergue government through its Plant Genetic Resource Center…in collaboration with Seeds of

           Survival (SoS) had implemented a programme to preserve Ethiopia's biodiversity" but "in 1998,

           coinciding chronologically with the onslaught of the 1998-2000 famine, the government clamped down

           on Seeds of Survival (SoS) and ordered the programme to be closed down." This incredible measure

           on the part of the EPRDF regime is altogether suspicious. Even if I give the government the benefit of

           the doubt and surmise that its actions were inadvertent, I am still not convinced that "closing down"

           SoS is a mere syncopation. It is, I believe, a deliberate reversal.


           To our chagrin and adding fuel to injury as they say, referring to information provided by the Rural

           Advancement Foundation (RAFI) Chossudovsky brings to the table the following stunning fact: "US

           farmers already earned $150 million annually by growing varieties of barley developed from Ethiopian

           strains. Yet no body in Ethiopia is sending them a bill."


           Six months after Chodussovsky published his article on, it became public

           knowledge that the unique Ethiopian barley was benefiting many nations although Ethiopians were

           kept in the dark about their own resource. On February 8, 2001, the PanAfrican News Agency (PANA)

           from Dakar tells the world that "seeds from starving Ethiopia give America abundant yields." PANA

           reports: "It may sound paradoxical, as informed sources at the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

           assert, starving Ethiopia could well pass for the worlds seeds basket."


           Ethiopian scientists including Girma Hailu and Awegechew Teshome have concurred with

           Chodussovsky on the enigma of the Ethiopian barley. As per PANA, "according to Girma Hailu, a

           former US State Department Regional Environmental Specialist for East Africa, germ plasma capable

           of resisting the gene of the Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) is thought to have been collected from

           the Ethiopian collection and introduced into the genetic material of California in the 1960s…this

           BYVD-resistant strain is saving California state from a yearly expenditure of 160 million US dollars for

           pest control." But, according to Awegechew, it is not just California that is benefiting from the

           Ethiopian barley. A whole host of countries including the US, Canada, Australia have shared the kill

           that they have prayed upon.


           Because the media is so systematically controlled by the magnates mentioned above, and respective

           governments collaborate in promoting the latter's interest, it is not surprising that starving Ethiopia was

           unable to uplift itself from the vagaries of famine. The Ethiopian potential of being a breadbasket is

           meaningless unless and until the country begins to reassert itself and reclaim its destiny, and by that I

           mean Ethiopia can salvage itself only if it can begin to determine its resources. This, in turn, entails

           the emergence of a patriotic, democratic, and development-oriented leadership, which is, logically

           speaking, a precondition to a famine-free and prosperous nation. That will be the day! Then and only

           then can we confidently assert that Ethiopia is indeed the world's seed basket.


           *Not verbatim but to that effect.


           **CBS reported on 9/9/02 that the Zambian Government rejected US donated GM foods!