Why Hunger Haunts Malawi

Revolution #025, December 4, 2005, posted at revcom.us

14 November 20. A World to Win News Service. Almost five million people in Malawi are on the verge of starvation. This country of 12 million is ground zero of a catastrophic hunger crisis in eastern and southern Africa, just as Niger was four months ago. The reason why people here are hungry is because theres too much maize (corn) in the world.

Most of the people of Malawi are farmers, but the government, acting under orders from international capitalist organisations like the IMF, decided that rather than putting resources into developing subsistence agriculture it would be more "efficient" to buy maize on the world market, mainly neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Commercial farmers abroad grew maize more cheaply than in Malawi. But cheap imported corn made the government uninterested in encouraging and supporting Malawis small farmers, who lack basic tools and irrigation.

For various reasons, the maize crop failed in the countries bordering Malawi this year, and they turned to South Africa for grain imports. There was no shortage South Africa has a surplus of five million tonnes of corn from this years harvest. But the price doubled, not only because of increased demand in Africa, but even more because for the first time Japanese corporations are importing South African grain. Due to the damage done to American ports by Hurricane Katrina, these companies are not able to get grain shipped from their usual suppliers in the US.

The result is not that there isnt enough corn, but that people in Malawi cant afford to buy what there is.

The United States has even more surplus corn American farmers grew almost 11 billion bushels this year. Rural storage facilities in the American Mid West are so full they have no silos to put it all in, and instead heap it up in piles 18 metres tall the size of a soccer pitch. Because of US policies favouring large agricultural corporations, this huge production doesnt mean the grain becomes cheaper. So Malawians cant afford to buy it. However, US and other "foreign aid" agencies will probably buy some of it, at market prices, thus doing their bit to feed American agribusiness and big banks, and give it to people in Malawi. This may keep many people alive who would otherwise die. But it is another nail in the coffin of Malawis agriculture and thus of its people. They will be further enslaved to the imperialist world market, a market whose workings make the monopoly capitalists in the richest countries richer and drive the people down.

In todays capitalist world, the highly developed capacity to produce global wealth is turned against the people and their interests. Malawis countryside may seem a long way from New York, London and Tokyo, but this is where what is going to happen to its people gets decided. As long as this imperialist system holds Malawi in its grips, the same thing or worse will happen next year in Malawi and other countries.

(For more on capitalism and the hunger crisis, see the articles on Niger in the 25 September issue of Revolution, "Hunger Crisis in Niger: Starvation by the Market", and "Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism, and African Hunger", at www.revcom.us)

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