Wreaking Ethiopia's Peasant Economy,
excerpted from the book
The Globalization of Poverty and
the New World Order
by Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, 2003, paperback
[first edition 1997]
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 sub-Saharan Africa, wreaking the peasant economy and impoverishing
millions of people. With the complicity of branches of the US
government, it has also opened the door for the appropriation
of traditional seeds ... by US biotech corporations, which ...
have been peddling the adoption of their own genetically modified
seeds under the disguise of emergency aid and famine relief.
Crisis in the Horn
More than 8 million people in Ethiopia
- representing 15% of the country's population had been locked
into "famine zones". Urban wages had collapsed and unemployed
seasonal farm workers and landless peasants were driven into abysmal
poverty. The international relief agencies concurred, without
further examination, that climatic factors are the sole and inevitable
cause of crop failure and the ensuing humanitarian disaster. What
the media tabloids failed to disclose was that - despite the drought
and the border war with Eritrea - several million people in the
most prosperous agricultural regions had also been driven into
starvation. Their predicament was not the consequence of grain
shortages but of "free markets" and "bitter economic
medicine" imposed under the IMF-World Bank-sponsored Structural
Adjustment Programme (SAP).
The Promise of the "Free Market"
In Ethiopia, a transitional government
came into power in 1991 in the wake of a protracted and destructive
civil war. After the pro-Soviet Dergue regime of Colonel Mengistu
Haile Mariam was unseated, a multi-donor financed Emergency Recovery
and Reconstruction Project (ERRP) was put in place to deal with
an external debt of close to 9 billion dollars that had accumulated
during the Mengistu government. Ethiopia's outstanding debts with
the Paris Club of official creditors were rescheduled in exchange
for far-reaching macro-economic reforms. Upheld by US foreign
policy, the usual doses of bitter IMF economic medicine were prescribed.
Caught in the straightjacket of debt and structural adjustment,
the new Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), led by the
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) - largely
formed from the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (PLF) had committed
itself to farreaching "free market reforms", despite
its leaders' Marxist leanings. Washington soon tagged Ethiopia,
alongside Uganda, as Africa's post Cold War free market showpiece.
While social budgets were slashed under
the structural adjustment programme (SAP), military expenditure
- in part financed by the gush of fresh development loans quadrupled
since I989. With Washington supporting both sides in the Eritrea-Ethiopia
border war, US arms sales spiralled. The bounty was being shared
between the arms manufacturers and the agribusiness conglomerates...
With mounting military spending financed on borrowed money, almost
half of Ethiopia's export revenues had been earmarked to meet
Laundering America's GM Grain Surpluses
US grain surpluses peddled in war-torn
countries served to weaken the agricultural system. Some 500,000
tons of maize and maize products were "donated" in 1999-2000
by USAID to relief agencies including the World Food Programme
(WFP) which, in turn, collaborates closely with the US Department
of Agriculture. At least 30% of these shipments procured under
contract with US agri-business firms) were surplus genetically
modified grain stocks.'
Boosted by the border war with Eritrea
and the plight of thousands of refugees, the influx of contaminated
food aid had contributed to the pollution of Ethiopia's genetic
pool of indigenous seeds and landraces. In a cruel irony, the
food giants were, at the same time, gaining control - through
the procurement of contaminated food aid - over Ethiopia's seed
banks. According to South Africa's Biowatch: "Africa is treated
as the dustbin of the world ... To donate- untested food and seed
to Africa is not an act of kindness but an attempt to lure Africa
into further dependence on foreign aid."
Moreover, part of the "food aid"
had been channelled under the "food for work" program
which served to further discourage domestic production in favor
of grain imports. Under this scheme, impoverished and landless
farmers were contracted to work on rural infrastructural programmes
in exchange for "donated" US corn.
Meanwhile, the cash earnings of coffee
smallholders plummeted. Whereas Pioneer Hi-Bred positioned itself
in seed distribution and marketing, Cargill Inc. established itself
in the markets for grain and coffee through its subsidiary Ethiopian
Commodities." For the more than 700,000 smallholders with
less than two hectares that produce between 90 and 95% of the
country's coffee output, the deregulation of agricultural credit,
combined with low farmgate prices of coffee, had triggered increased
indebtedness and landlessness, particularly in East Gojam (Ethiopia's
Biodiversity up for Sale
The country's extensive reserves of traditional
seed varieties (barley, teff, chick peas, sorghum, etc.) were
being appropriated, genetically manipulated and patented by the
agri-business conglomerates: "Instead of compensation and
respect. Ethiopians today are getting bills from foreign companies
that have "patented" native species and now demand payment
for their use." The foundations of a "competitive seed
industry" were laid under IMF and World Bank auspices."
The Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), the government's seed monopoly,
joined hands with Pioneer Hi-Bred in the distribution of hi-bred
and genetically modified (GM) seeds (together with hybrid resistant
herbicide) to smallholders. In turn, the marketing of seeds had
been transferred to a network of private contractors and "seed
enterprises" with financial support and technical assistance
from the World Bank. The "informal" farmer-to-farmer
seed exchange was slated to be converted under the World Bank
programme into a "formal" market-oriented system of
"private seed producer- sellers.
In turn, the Ethiopian Agricultural Research
Institute (EARl) was collaborating with the International Maize
and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in the development of new
hybrids between Mexican and Ethiopian maize varieties." Initially
established in the 1940s by Pioneer Hi-Bred International with
support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, CIMMYT developed
a cozy relationship with US agri-business. Together with the UK
based Norman Borlaug Institute, CIMMYT constitutes a research
arm as well as a mouthpiece of the seed conglomerates. According
to the Rural Advancement Foundation (RAFI) "US farmers already
earn $ 150 million annually by growing varieties of barley developed
from Ethiopian strains. Yet nobody in Ethiopia is sending them
Impacts of Famine
The 1984-85 famine had seriously threatened
Ethiopia's reserves of landraces of traditional seeds. In response
to the famine, the Dergue government, through its Plant Genetic
Resource Centre - in collaboration with Seeds of Survival (SoS)
had implemented a programme to preserve Ethiopia's biodiversity.
This programme - which was continued under the transitional government
- skillfully "linked on-farm conservation and crop improvement
by rural communities with government support services". '9
An extensive network of in-farm sites and conservation plots was
established involving some 30,000 farmers. 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.
The hidden agenda was eventually to displace
the traditional varieties and landraces reproduced in village-level
nurseries. The latter were supplying more than 90 percent of the
peasantry through a system of farmer-to-farmer exchange. Without
fail, the 1998-2000 famine led to a further depletion of local
level seed banks: "The reserves of grains [the farmer normally
stores to see him through difficult times are empty. Like 30,000
other households in the [Galga] area, his family has also eaten
their stocks of seeds for the next harvest."" And a
similar process was unfolding in the production of coffee where
the genetic base of the arabica beans was threatened as a result
of the collapse of farmgate prices and the impoverishment of small-holders.
The famine - itself in large part a product
of the economic reforms imposed to the advantage of large corporations
by the IMF, World Bank and the US Government - served to undermine
Ethiopia's genetic diversity to the benefit of the biotech companies.
With the weakening of the system of traditional exchange, village
level seed banks were being replenished with commercial hi-bred
and genetically modified seeds. In turn, the distribution of seeds
to impoverished farmers had been integrated with the "food
aid" programmes. WPF and USAID relief packages often include
"donations" of seeds and fertilizer, thereby favoring
the inroad of the agribusiness-biotech companies into Ethiopia's
agricultural heartland. The emergency programs are not the "solution"
but the "cause" of famine. By deliberately creating
a dependency on GM seeds, they had set the stage for the outbreak
of future famines.
This destructive pattern - invariably
resulting in famine - is replicated throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
From the onslaught of the debt crisis of the early 1980s, the
IMF-World Bank had set the stage for the demise of the peasant
economy across the region [Horn of Africa] with devastating results.
Now in Ethiopia, fifteen years after the last famine left nearly
one million dead, hunger is once again stalking the land. This
time, as eight million people face the risk of starvation, we
know that it isn't just the weather that is to blame.