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9-Misc: Sowing the seeds of famine in Ethiopia

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TITLE:  Genetically Modified Seeds Imposed on Farmers in Developing
        Countries Trigger Famine and Social Devastation
        Sowing the Seeds of Famine in Ethiopia
SOURCE: Addis Tribune, Ethopia, by Michel Chossudovsky

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Genetically Modified Seeds Imposed on Farmers in Developing Countries
Trigger Famine and Social Devastation
Sowing the Seeds of Famine in Ethiopia

The "economic therapy" imposed under the 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 and landraces by US
biotech corporations, which behind the scenes have been peddling the
adoption of their own genetically modified seeds under the disguise of
emergency aid and famine relief.

Moreover, under WTO rules, the agri-biotech conglomerates can manipulate
market forces to their advantage as well as exact royalties from farmers.
The WTO provides legitimacy to the food giants to dismantle state
programmes, including emergency grain stocks, seed banks, extension
services and agricultural credit, etc., to plunder peasant economies and
trigger the outbreak of periodic famines.

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
have collapsed and unemployed seasonal farm workers and landless peasants
have been driven into abysmal poverty. The international relief agencies
concur without further examination that climatic factors are the sole and
inevitable cause of crop failure and the ensuing humanitarian disaster.
What the media tabloids fail to disclose is that - despite the drought
and the border war with Eritrea - several million people in the most
prosperous agricultural regions have also been driven into starvation.
Their predicament is not the consequence of grain shortages but of "free
market" and "bitter economic medicine" imposed under the IMF-World Bank
sponsored Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

Ethiopia produces more than 90% of its consumption needs. Yet at the
height of the crisis, the nationwide food deficit for 2000 was estimated
by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at 764,000 metric tons of
grain representing a shortfall of 13 kilos per person per annum. In
Amhara (Region), grain production (1999-2000) was twenty percent in
excess of consumption needs. Yet 2.8 million people in Amhara
(representing 17% of the Region's population) became locked into famine
zones and are "at risk" according to the FAO. Whereas Amhara's grain
surpluses were in excess of 500,000 tons (1999-2000), its "relief food
needs" had been tagged by the international community at close to
300,000tons. A similar pattern prevailed in Oromia, the country's most
populated state where 1.6 million people were classified "at risk",
despite the availability of more than 600,000 metric tons of surplus
grain. In both these regions, which include more than 25% of the
country's population, scarcity of food was clearly not the cause of
hunger, poverty and social destitution. Yet no explanations are given by
the panoply of international relief agencies and agricultural research

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
Derge regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was unseated, a multi-donor
financed Emergency Recovery and Reconstruction Project (ERRP) was hastily
put in place to deal with an external debt of close to 9 billion dollars
(US) 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 (TPLF) - had committed
itself to far-reaching "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 1989(5). 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. In the post-Cold War era, the latter
positioned themselves in the lucrative procurement of emergency aid to
war-torn countries. With mounting military spending financed on borrowed
money, almost half of Ethiopia's export revenues was earmarked to meet
debt-servicing obligations.

A Policy Framework Paper (PFP) stipulating the precise changes to be
carried out in Ethiopia had been carefully crafted in Washington by IMF
and World Bank officials on behalf of the transitional government, and
was forwarded to Addis Ababa for the signature of the Minister of
Finance. The enforcement of severe austerity measures virtually
foreclosed the possibility of a meaningful post-war reconstruction and
the rebuilding of the country's shattered infrastructure. The creditors
demanded trade liberalization and the full-scale privatization of public
utilities, financial institutions, state farms and factories. Civil
servants, including teachers and health workers, were fired, wages were
frozen and the labour laws were rescinded to enable state enterprises "to
shed their surplus workers". Meanwhile, corruption became rampant. State
assets were auctioned off to foreign capital at bargain prices and Price
Waterhouse Cooper was entrusted with the task of coordinating the sale of
state property.

In turn, the reforms had led to the fracture of the federal fiscal
system. Budget transfers to the state governments were slashed leaving
the regions to their own devices. Supported by several donors,
"regionalization" was heralded as "devolution of powers from the federal
to the regional governments". The Bretton Woods Institutions knew exactly
what they were doing. In the words of the IMF, "(the regions) capacity to
deliver effective and efficient development interventions varies widely,
as does their capacity for revenue collection".

Wrecking the Peasant Economy

Patterned on the reforms adopted in Kenya in 1991, agricultural markets
were wilfully manipulated on behalf of the agribusiness conglomerates.
The World Bank demanded the rapid removal of price controls and all
subsidies to farmers. Transportation and freight prices were deregulated
serving to boost food prices in remote areas affected by drought. In
turn, the markets for farm inputs, including fertilizer and seeds, were
handed over to private traders including pioneer HI-Breed International
which entered into a lucrative partnership with Ethiopia Seed Enterprise
(ESE), the government's seed monopoly.

At the outset of the reforms in 1992, USAID under its Title III programme
"donated" large quantities of US fertilizer "in exchange for free market

(V) arious agricultural commodities (will be provided) in exchange for
reforms of grain marketing---and (the) elimination of food subsidies The
reform agenda focuses on liberalization and privatization in the
fertilizer and transport sectors in return for financing fertilizer and
truck imports---These programme initiatives have given us (an) "entire"--
in defining major (policy) issues.

While the stocks of donated US fertilizer were rapidly exhausted, the
imported chemicals contributed to displacing local fertilizer producers.
The same companies involved in the fertilizer import business were also
in control of the domestic wholesale distribution of fertilizer using
local level merchants as intermediaries.

Increased output was recorded in commercial farms and in irrigated areas
(where fertilizer and high yielding seeds had been applied). The overall
tendency, however, was towards greater economic and social polarization
in the countryside marked by significantly lower yields in less
productive marginal lands occupied by the poor peasantry. Even in areas
where output had increased, farmers were caught in the clutch of the seed
and fertilizer merchants.

In 1997, the Atlanta based Carter Center - which was actively promoting
the use of biotechnology tools in maize breeding - proudly announced that
"Ethiopia (had) become a food exporter for the first time".

Yet in a cruel irony, the donors ordered the dismantling of the emergency
grain reserves (set up in the wake of the 1984-85 famine) and the
authorities acquiesced.

Instead of replenishing the country's emergency food stocks, grain was
exported to meet Ethiopia's debt servicing obligations. 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.

In return, US surpluses of genetically engineered maize (banned by the
European Union) were being dumped on the horn of Africa in the form of
emergency aid. The US had found a convenient mechanism for

" laundering its stocks of dirty grain". The agribusiness conglomerates
not only cornered Ethiopia's commodity exports, they were also involved
in the procurement of emergency shipments of grain back into Ethiopia.
During the 1998-2000 famine, lucrative maize contracts were awarded to
giant merchants such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill Inc.

Laundering America's GM Grain Surpluses

US grain surpluses peddled in war-torn countries also 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 agribusiness firms) were surplus genetically
modified grain stacks.

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" programme which served to further discourage domestic production in
favour 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-Breed 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 2 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 (barely,
teff, chick peas, sorghum, etc) were being appropriated, genetically
manipulated and patented by the agribusiness 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-Breed 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 (EARI) 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-Breed
International with support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations,
CIMMYT developed a cozy relationship with US agribusiness. 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 a bill".

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 Center--- 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 ".

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 to eventually 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 have
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 farm
gate prices and the impoverishment of small-holders.

In other words, 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-breed and genetically modified
seeds. In turn, the distribution of seeds to impoverished farmers had
been integrated with the "food aid" programmes. WFP and USAID relief
packages often include "donation " of seeds and fertilizer, thereby
favouring the inroad of the agribusiness-biotech companies into
Ethiopia's agricultural heartland. The emergency programmes 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

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 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.

Michel Chossudovsky
Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa


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