Breeding famine

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Breeding famine

Unread postby Ethiopians » 21 Sep 2009 19:45

Breeding famine

I found this Comment in GulfDaily website and it's interesting. I think it has a good point but is that the only reason?
have your say too.



By GWYNNE DYER, Posted on » Tuesday, September 22, 2009


A quarter-century after a million Ethiopians died in the great hunger of 1984-85, the country is heading into another famine.

The spring rains failed and the summer rains were three weeks late. But why is famine stalking Ethiopia again?

The government is authoritarian, but not incompetent. It gives fertiliser to farmers and teaches best practices.

By the late 90s the country was self-sufficient in food in good years and the government created a strategic food reserve for the bad years.

So why are we back here again? Infant deaths are over two per 10,000 per day in Somali, the worst-hit region of Ethiopia (four per day counts as full-scale famine).

Country-wide, 20 per cent of the population depend on the dwindling flow of foreign food aid and it will get worse for many months yet. What have the Ethiopians done wrong?

The real answer (which everybody carefully avoids) is that they have had too many babies.

Ethiopia's population at the time of the last famine was 40 million. Twenty-five years later, it is 80m.

It is so obvious that this should be the start of every conversation about the country. Even if the coming famine kills a million people, the population will keep growing.

So the next famine, 10 or 15 years from now, will hit a country of 100m, trying to make a living from farming on land where only 40m faced starvation in the 1980s.

Yet it's practically taboo to say that. The whole question of population, instead of being central to the debate about development, about food, about climate change, has been put on ice.

The reason, I think, is that rich countries are secretly embarrassed and the poor ones deeply resentful.

Suppose that Ethiopia had been the first country to industrialise. Suppose some mechanical genius in Tigray had invented the world's first steam engine in 1710.

Imagine that the first railways were spreading across the country by the 1830s, and at the same time Ethiopian entrepreneurs and imperialists spread all over Africa - and by the end of the 19th century, controlled half of Europe too.

Never mind the improbabilities. The point is that an Ethiopia with such a history would easily be rich enough to support 80m people now - and if it could not grow enough food for them all, it would just import it.

Just like Britain (where the industrial revolution actually started) imports food. Money makes everything easy.

In 1710, when Thomas Newcomen devised the first practical steam engine in Devonshire, the population of Britain was seven million. It is now 61m, but they do not live in fear of famine. In fact, they eat very well, even though they import over a third of their food.

They got in first, so although they never worried in the slightest about population growth, they got away with it.

Ethiopia has more than four times the land surface of Britain. The rain is less reliable, but a rich Ethiopia would have no trouble feeding its people. The problem is that it got the population growth without the wealth.

Stopping the population growth now would be very hard, but otherwise famine will be a permanent resident in another 20 years.

The problem is well understood. The population of the rich countries has grown about tenfold since the earliest days of the industrial revolution, but for the first half of that period it grew quite slowly.

Many babies died and there were no cures for most epidemic diseases. Later the death rate dropped, but by then, with people feeling more secure, the birth rate was dropping too.

Whereas, in most of the poor countries the population hardly grew at all until the start of the 20th century.

But once the population did start to grow, thanks to basic public health measures that cut the death rate, it grew faster than it ever did in the rich countries.

Unfortunately, economies don't grow that fast, so these countries never achieved the level of comfort and security where most people will start to reduce their family size spontaneously.

History is unfair. Conversations between those who got lucky and those left holding the other end of the stick are awkward.

But we cannot go on ignoring the elephant in the room. We have to start talking about population again.
Source:Gulf Daily news
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