Somalia: the Real Causes of Famine
excerpted from the book
The Globalization of Poverty and
the New World Order
by Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, 2003, paperback
[first edition 1997]
The IMF Intervention in the Early 1980s
Somalia was a pastoral economy based on
"exchange" between nomadic herdsmen and small agriculturalists.
Nomadic pastoralists accounted for 50 percent of the population.
In the 1970s, resettlement programs led to the development of
a sizeable sector of commercial pastoralism. Livestock contributed
to 80 percent of export earnings until 1983. Despite recurrent
droughts, Somalia remained virtually self-sufficient in food until
The IMF-World Bank intervention in the
early 1980s contributed to exacerbating the crisis of Somali agriculture.
The economic reforms undermined the fragile exchange relationship
between the "nomadic economy" and the "sedentary
economy" - i.e. between pastoralists and small farmers characterized
by money transactions as well as traditional barter. A very tight
austerity program was imposed on the government largely to release
the funds required to service Somalia's debt with the Paris Club.
In fact, a large share of the external debt was held by the Washington-based
financial institutions.' According to an ILO mission report:
[T]he Fund alone among Somalia's major
recipients of debt service payments, refuses to reschedule. (...)
De facto it is helping to finance an adjustment program, one of
whose major goals is to repay the IMF itself.
Towards the Destruction of Food Agriculture
The structural adjustment program reinforced
Somalia's dependency on imported grain. From the mid-1970s to
the mid-1980s, food aid increased fifteen-fold, at the rate of
31 percent per annum.' Combined with increased commercial imports,
this influx of cheap surplus wheat and rice sold in the domestic
market led to the displacement of local producers, as well as
to a major shift in food consumption patterns to the detriment
of traditional crops (maize and sorghum). The devaluation of the
Somali shilling, imposed by the IMF in June 1981, was followed
by periodic devaluations, leading to hikes in the prices of fuel,
fertilizer and farm inputs. The impact on agricultural producers
was immediate particularly in rain-fed agriculture, as well as
in the areas of irrigated farming. Urban purchasing power declined
dramatically, government extension programs were curtailed, infrastructure
collapsed, the deregulation of the grain market and the influx
of "food aid" led to the impoverishment of farming communities.'
Also, during this period, much of the
best agricultural land was appropriated by bureaucrats, army officers
and merchants with connections to the government.' Rather than
promoting food production for the domestic market, the donors
were encouraging the development of so-called "high value-added"
fruits, vegetables, oilseeds and cotton for export on the best
Collapse of the Livestock Economy
As of the early 1980s, prices for imported
livestock drugs increased as a result of the depreciation of the
currency. The World Bank encouraged the exaction of user fees
for veterinarian services to the nomadic herdsmen, including the
vaccination of animals. A private market for veterinary drugs
was promoted. The functions performed by the Ministry of Livestock
were phased out, with the Veterinary Laboratory Services of the
ministry to be fully financed on a cost-recovery basis. According
to the World Bank:
Veterinarian services are essential for
livestock development in all areas, and they can be provided mainly
by the private sector. (... Since few private veterinarians will
choose to practice in the remote pastoral areas, improved livestock
care will also depend on "para vets" paid from drug
The privatization of animal health was
combined with the absence of emergency animal feed during periods
of drought, the commercialization
of water and the neglect of water and
rangeland conservation. The results were predictable: the herds
were decimated and so were the pastoralists, who represent 50
percent of the country's population. The "hidden objective"
of this program was to eliminate the nomadic herdsmen involved
in the traditional exchange economy. According to the World Bank,
"adjustments" in the size of the herds are, in any event,
beneficial because nomadic pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa
are narrowly viewed as a cause of environmental degradation."
The collapse in veterinarian services
also indirectly served the interests of the rich countries: in
1984, Somalian cattle exports to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries
plummeted as Saudi beef imports were redirected to suppliers from
Australia and the European Community. The ban on Somali livestock
imposed by Saudi Arabia was not, however, removed once the rinderpest
disease epidemic had been eliminated.
Destroying the State
The restructuring of government expenditure
under the supervision of the Bretton Woods institutions also played
a crucial role in destroying food agriculture. Agricultural infrastructure
collapsed and recurrent expenditure in agriculture declined by
about 85 percent in relation to the mid-1970s." The Somali
government was prevented by the IMF from mobilizing domestic resources.
Tight targets for the budget deficit were set. Moreover, the donors
increasingly provided "aid", not in the form of imports
of capital and equipment, but in the form of "food aid".
The latter would in turn be sold by the government on the local
market and the proceeds of these sales (i.e. the so-called "counterpart
funds") would be used to cover the domestic costs of development
projects. As of the early 1980s, "the sale of food aid"
became the principal source of revenue for the state, thereby
enabling donors to take control of the entire budgetary process."
The economic reforms were marked by the
disintegration of health and educational programmes. '3 By 1989,
expenditure on health had declined by 78 percent in relation to
its 1975 level. According to World Bank figures, the level of
recurrent expenditure on education in 1989 was about US$ 4 Per
annum per primary school student down from about $ 82 in 1982.
From 1981 to 1989, school enrolment declined by 41 percent (despite
a sizeable increase in the population of school age), textbooks
and school materials disappeared from the class-rooms, school
buildings deteriorated and nearly a quarter of the primary schools
closed down. Teachers' salaries declined to abysmally low levels.
The IMF-World Bank program has led the
Somali economy into a vicious circle: the decimation of the herds
pushed the nomadic pastoralists into starvation which in turn
backlashes on grain producers who sold or bartered their grain
for cattle. The entire social fabric of the pastoralist economy
was undone. The collapse in foreign exchange earnings from declining
cattle exports and remittances (from Somali workers in the Gulf
countries) backlashed on the balance of payments and the state's
public finances leading to the breakdown of the government's economic
and social programs.
Small farmers were displaced as a result
of the dumping of subsidized US grain on the domestic market combined
with the hike in the price of farm inputs. The impoverishment
of the urban population also led to a contraction of food consumption.
In turn, state support in the irrigated areas was frozen and production
in the state farms declined. The latter were slated to be closed
down or privatized under World Bank supervision.
According to World Bank estimates, real
public-sector wages in 1989 had declined by 90 percent in relation
to the mid-1970s. Average wages in the public sector had fallen
to US$ 3 a month, leading to the inevitable disintegration of
the civil administration." A program to rehabilitate civil
service wages was proposed by the World Bank (in the context of
a reform of the civil service), but this objective was to be achieved
within the same budgetary envelope by dismissing some 40 percent
of public-sector employees and eliminating salary supplements."
Under this plan, the civil service would have been reduced to
a mere 25,000 employees by 1995 (in a country of six million people).
Several donors indicated keen interest in funding the cost associated
with the retrenchment of civil servants."
In the face of impending disaster, no
attempt was made by the international donor community to rehabilitate
the country's economic and social infrastructure, to restore levels
of purchasing power and to rebuild the civil service: the macro-economic
adjustment measures proposed by the creditors in the year prior
to the collapse of the government of General Siyad Barre in January
1991 (at the height of the civil war) called for a further tightening
over public spending, the restructuring of the Central Bank, the
liberalization of credit (which virtually thwarted the private
sector) and the liquidation and divestiture of most of the state
In 1989, debt-servicing obligations represented
194.6 percent of export earnings. The IMF's loan was cancelled
because of Somalia's outstanding arrears. The World Bank had approved
a structural adjustment loan for US$ 70 million in June 1989 which
was frozen a few months later due to Somalia's poor macro-economic
performance. '7 Arrears with creditors had to be settled before
the granting of new loans and the negotiation of debt rescheduling.
Somalia was tangled in the straightjacket of debt servicing and
Famine Formation in sub-Saharan Africa:
The Lessons of Somalia
Somalia's experience shows how a country
can be devastated by the simultaneous application of food "aid"
and macro-economic policy. There are many Somalias in the developing
world and the economic reform package implemented in Somalia is
similar to that applied in more than 100 developing countries.
But there is another significant dimension: Somalia is a pastoralist
economy, and throughout Africa both nomadic and commercial livestock
are being destroyed by the IMF-World Bank program in much the
same way as in Somalia. In this context, subsidized beef and dairy
products imported (duty free) from the European Union have led
to the demise of Africa's pastoral economy. European beef imports
to West Africa have increased seven-fold since 1984: "the
low quality EC beef sells at half the price of locally produced
meat. Sahelian farmers are finding that no-one is prepared to
buy their herds"."
The experience of Somalia shows that famine
in the late 20th century is not a consequence of a shortage of
food. On the contrary, famines are spurred on as a result of a
global oversupply of grain staples. Since the 1980s, grain markets
have been deregulated under the supervision of the World Bank
and US grain surpluses are used systematically as in the case
of Somalia to destroy the peasantry and destabilize national food
agriculture. The latter becomes, under these circumstances, far
more vulnerable to the vagaries of drought and environmental degradation.
Throughout the continent, the pattern
of "sectoral adjustment" in agriculture under the custody
of the Bretton Woods institutions has been unequivocally towards
the destruction of food security. Dependency vis-à-vis
the world market has been reinforced, "food aid" to
sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than seven times since 1974
and commercial grain imports more than doubled. Grain imports
for sub-Saharan Africa expanded from 3.72 million tons in 1974
to 8.47 million tons in 1993. Food aid increased from 910,000
tons in 1974 to 6.64 million tons in l993.
"Food aid", however, was no
longer earmarked for the drought-stricken countries of the Sahelian
belt; it was also channeled into countries which were, until recently,
more or less self-sufficient in food. ibabwe (once considered
the bread basket of Southern Africa) was severely affected by
the famine and drought which swept Southern Africa in 1992. The
country experienced a drop of 90 percent in its maize crop, located
largely in less productive lands." Yet, ironically, at the
height of the drought, tobacco for export (supported by modem
irrigation, credit, research, etc.) registered a bumper harvest.
While "the famine forces the population to eat termites",
much of the export earnings from Zimbabwe's tobacco harvest were
used to service the external debt.
Under the structural adjustment program,
farmers have increasingly abandoned traditional food crops; in
Malawi, which was once a net food exporter, maize production declined
by 40 percent in 1992 while tobacco output doubled between 1986
and 1993. One hundred and fifty thousand hectares of the best
land was allocated to tobacco .2' Throughout the 1980s, severe
austerity measures were imposed on African governments and expenditures
on rural development drastically curtailed, leading to the collapse
of agricultural infrastructure. Under the World Bank program,
water was to become a commodity to be sold on a cost-recovery
basis to impoverished farmers. Due to lack of funds, the state
was obliged to withdraw from the management and conservation of
water resources. Water points and boreholes dried up due to lack
of maintenance, or were privatized by local merchants and rich
farmers. In the semi-arid regions, this commercialization of water
and irrigation leads to the collapse of food security and famine.
While "external" climatic variables
play a role in triggering off a famine and heightening the social
impact of drought, famines in the age of globalization are man-made.
They are not the consequence of a scarcity of food but of a structure
of global oversupply which undermines food security and destroys
national food agriculture. Tightly regulated and controlled by
international agri-business, this oversupply is ultimately conducive
to the stagnation of both production and consumption of essential
food staples and the impoverishment of farmers throughout the
world. Moreover, in the era of globalization, the IMF-World Bank
structural adjustment program bears a direct relationship to the
process of famine formation because it systematically undermines
all categories of economic activity, whether urban or rural, which
do not directly serve the interests of the global market system.