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Part 6: 'The Entire Food Aid System Is Perverted'|
But feeding Kenya is someone else's job. Early in the day, shortly after sunrise, a WFP team sets out on a food distribution mission. Today's route begins in Garissa, a city in eastern Kenya, and ends at the Somali border. The truck is filled to the roof with sacks of US flour, salt and vegetable oil. It struggles along dusty roads through a barren, thorny landscape. The plastic bags caught in the brush are the only sign of civilization.
Four bumpy hours later, the shipment arrives in Welmarele, a village of twig huts, a masonry school and a water pump donated by aid workers. Skinny cows and camels and hundreds of goats jostle for a spot at the well. The cowherds run to the village square, where the truck is already being unloaded. They receive food from the WFP once a month, and the food is intended strictly for the villagers' personal consumption. But hardly has the distribution ended before a sack marked with the US flag is for sale in one of the local shops.
"The entire food aid system is perverted," says Kenyan economist James Shikwati. "A culture has been created that destroys all independent initiative, stabilizes corrupt governments and preserves obsolete social structures."
Take nomadic shepherds, for example. "They keep their animals as a status symbol -- and to buy wives. In the past they would slaughter the animals when food and water became scarce. Nowadays they prefer to wait for the aid deliveries."
The outcome is that far too many animals are over-grazing the already barren land, causing erosion. The shepherds move to greener pastures, producing conflict with farmers. If the conflict erupts into war, the UN will likely send in peacekeepers to settle a problem caused by the UN food program.
"Now isn't that crazy?" asks the 37-year economist. It's difficult to argue with Shikwati. Conflicts over land distribution are one of the central causes of many of Africa's wars.
The land available to nomadic herdsman is being restricted almost everywhere. In the West African country of Burkina Faso, farmers have occupied the nomads' ancestral grazing grounds, because they in turn are being displaced by growing cities. The first clashes have already erupted, reports Wilhelm Thees, who works for the aid organization Misereor in the capital Ouagadougou. A group of farmers recently shot cows that had wandered onto their fields. Out of revenge, the herdsmen drove their entire herd onto the planted fields the next day.
Disputes like these can turn into wars. Misereor wants to prevent this from happening by convincing the nomads to settle down in one place. "If they could live from the sale of milk, peace would be guaranteed in the country," says Thees. Misereor recently commissioned Father Maurice Oudet, a missionary who has been working with the herdsmen for a long time, to conduct a study. The results were devastating. According to Oudet, the domestic milk industry doesn't stand a chance against imported powder, most of which comes from the EU.
The Daily Struggle to Survive
Europe exported about 1,150 tons of dried whole milk to Burkina Faso in 2005. It may be a drop in the bucket for the world's biggest milk producer, but for Gariko Krotoumou it signifies a daily struggle to survive. The 50-year-old woman from Burkina Faso has eight dairy cows. The best of her Zebu cows produces four or five liters of milk a day -- one-eighth of what a European super-cow can produce. The flow of milk dries up completely in the dry season, when the animals have little to eat. Gariko ought to give her cows additional feed -- cottonseed patties and millet -- but this isn't something she can afford. She is familiar with the cause of her misery, and she is reminded of it on every street corner and in front of the small shop next to her house, where signs featuring a laughing cartoon cow advertise imported milk.
The foreign milk powder is ubiquitous, filling the shelves in supermarkets and corner stores with family portions from France Lait and Nestlé, bulk packages from French companies Bridel and Lacstar, Ireland's Vivalait and Kerrygold, the Dutch brand Bonnet Rouge and Cowbell from New Zealand.
One liter of milk made with milk powder costs between 0.30 cents and 0.60 cents. After milking her cows and pasteurizing the milk in hot water, Gariko has to charge 0.90 cents to make a profit. She sells the milk in small bags by the side of the road.
Gariko, who comes from a family of government officials, can read and write. She knows why she is unable to underbid the foreigners' prices. "They get money from the state so that they can bring their milk here," she says. Misereor paid for Gariko to travel to Germany, where she spoke to dairy farmers' groups and begged them to put an end to the exports. But even Germany's farmers weren't interested.
German farmers benefit when the EU spends between ? billion and ?.6 billion a year, or from 25 to 30 percent of the value of the product, to export milk products. To ensure that its urban population receives cheap milk, the government of Burkina Faso demands a five percent import duty. For the country's elites, who grew up with milk powder, fresh milk has a bad image. To them it smells like cows and poverty. "Even the kids are seeing the ads on television and asking for Danone yoghurt," says Father Oudet.
Dégué, a traditional, sweetened yoghurt with millet mixed in, remains popular. In Koudougou, an hour and a half from Ouagadougou, a group of dairy farmers have formed a cooperative to produce dégué. They buy fresh milk every day, but even they occasionally use the imported powder -- because it's cheaper.
"This isn't the way value is created," says Thees. "If we want to keep the Africans at subsistence level, we might as well cancel all the poverty conferences."
François Traoré is even more direct. The leader of Burkina Faso's cotton farmers is a powerful presence. His deep voice booms when he begins to cite his complaints, banging his fists on the table in his conference room in Ouagadougou. He knows how intimidating he can be, after having convinced the world, at the WTO meeting in Cancun, of the unfairness of US cotton subsidies. "And what good did that do?" he rants. "The US just keeps on merrily subsidizing and exporting away, while the world looks on."
Traoré holds a dim view of international institutions. The IMF? A club of the rich that wants to open markets for the rich. The World Bank? Interested in business, not charitable acts. The WTO? Lies to the world that it's acting for the benefit of the poor. "The truth," says Traoré, "is that none of them wants to give anything away."
Traoré's solution is to take a more forceful approach: to keep them at bay with high protective tariffs so that domestic markets can develop; to inform their citizens about unfair government policies, so that those at the top can be held responsible for their actions; to organize protests to alert the world to the injustices.
But the best form of pressure is the flow of migrants who are setting out, by the hundreds of thousands, toward the paradises of the North. From what he has seen on his travels, Traoré is convinced that Europe is already nervous. And the tension will continue to rise. Those who are unable to survive at home will not be held back, not even by fences, coast guard vessels or soldiers.
"If the rich nations destroy every chance of development in our countries, then we will just have to develop ourselves in their countries," says Samba Guèye, Traoré's counterpart in Senegal. It sounds like a threat. And that's exactly the way it's meant. "We exported peanuts and they destroyed that. We exported fish and they caught our fish. Now we will just export people."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
[ Last edited by northwest at 2007-5-15 12:25 PM ]