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 Globalresearch.ca, 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!