[dehai-news] Bloomberg.com: Dead Children Linked to Aid Policy in Africa Favoring Americans

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Dec 08 2008 - 07:39:37 EST

Dead Children Linked to Aid Policy in Africa Favoring Americans

By Alan Bjerga

 December 8, 2008 00:01 EST


Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The bag of green peas, stamped "USAID From the
American People," took more than six months to reach Haylar Ayako.

For seven of his grandchildren, that was a lifetime.

They died as the
<http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=INWPPEAS%3AIND> peas journeyed
from North Dakota to southern Ethiopia. During that time, the American
growers, processors and transporters that profit from aid shipments were
fighting off a proposal before Congress to speed deliveries by buying more
from foreign producers near trouble spots. As a result of legal mandates to
buy U.S. goods, the world's most generous food relief program wasn't fast or
flexible enough to feed the starving in Ethiopia's drought-ridden South Omo
region this year.

"I am so grieved that I lost those children," said Ayako, a Bena tribesman,
speaking in his local Omotic language. "They died of the food shortage."

The dry peas Ayako took home almost eight weeks ago had traveled more than
12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers) by rail, ship and truck, starting 15 miles
south of the Canadian border with their harvest in August 2007. Stops
included Lake Charles, Louisiana; Djibouti, the small African country whose
capital on the Gulf of Aden serves as a port for food aid; and Nazareth,
Ethiopia, two hours south of Addis Ababa, the capital. Warehouse stays
punctuated each leg until the peas finally arrived in the village of

'Behind Closed Doors'

U.S. farm and shipping lobbyists have stifled efforts to simplify aid
deliveries, leaving Africans to starve when they might have been saved, said
s=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Andrew Natsios, a professor at Georgetown
University in Washington who led USAID, the Agency for International
Development, from 2001 to 2006.

"No one can take the high moral ground against it, so they hide behind
closed doors and kill it," he said. "It's all done behind the scenes."

The shortcomings of the half-century-old humanitarian program show how
efforts to protect American shareholders can have unintended consequences.
After approving $2.62 billion of food aid in June, Congress has since
authorized 267 times that much in the $700 billion financial system bailout
and begun debate on requests from U.S. automakers for billions more.

Lawmakers this year failed to pass President
lds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> George W. Bush's January proposal to buy food
closer to starving people rather than shipping American produce. In May,
Bush renewed his request to spend 25 percent of the program locally after
food riots broke out in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.

Companies Benefit

Cargill Inc., <http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=ADM%3AUS> Archer
Daniels Midland Co. and
<http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=BG%3AUS> Bunge Ltd. accounted
for 47 percent of 2007 commodities spending for aid, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. The program was created in the 1950s, partly to
reduce domestic surpluses. The regulations require that almost all the peas,
corn and other crops come from American sources, effectively steering the
bulk of the business to the biggest food-trading companies.

The rules also stipulate that 75 percent of the food must be transported on
U.S.-flagged vessels, benefiting ship operators, including Liberty Maritime
Corp., based in Lake Success, New York, and Sealift Inc., of Oyster Bay, New
York. In 2007, the program's shipping contracts were worth $385 million,
according to the USDA.

Politics isn't the only manmade cause of the disaster that befell Ayako and
his family in Ethiopia. Dozens of interviews on six continents show that the
global food crisis also has roots in the failure by governments of
developing countries to invest in agriculture, in a three-fold jump in
fertilizer prices over two years and in speculators who doubled bets on
grain futures and drove prices to records.

Forecasts Lowered

While food costs have fallen 25 percent since June, according to the United
Nations, some seed and nutrient expenses haven't declined, threatening next
year's supply. Brazil lowered its projections. The corn crop in the U.S.,
the planet's largest exporter, will be 8.1 percent smaller this year, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture said Nov. 10. The number of the world's
hungry will grow from about 967 million this year to 1 billion in 2009,
predicts Olivier E. De Schutter, a professor of human rights at the
University of Louvain in Belgium and an adviser to the UN on the right to

One ingredient in this recipe for famine, U.S. food aid, differs from
policies of the European Union and Canada, which buy food near where it is
to be used. The U.S. program serves domestic interests more than the world's
needy, said
ds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Gawain Kripke, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam
America, a Boston-based affiliate of the aid group Oxfam International.

2.5 Million Tons

In 2007, the U.S. shipped more than 2.5 million tons of food aid to 61
countries, based on Agriculture Department and USAID data. Of $813 million
in commodities purchased for assistance programs, Decatur, Illinois-based
ADM supplied 25 percent; Cargill, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, 13
percent; and Bunge of White Plains, New York, 9 percent, the USDA said. Each
company's sales amounted to less than one-third of 1 percent of its revenue.

Shipping and logistical costs and administration can consume as much as
two-thirds of the budget for Food for Peace, the Government Accountability
Office said last year. Delivering aid "from vendor to village" averages four
to six months, the GAO said.

On March 11, the UN's <http://www.wfp.org/english> World Food Program
sought U.S. peas for Ethiopia. By then, the peas that Ayako needed had been
harvested for months. Three of his adult children had died in late 2007, he

Ayako's Wealth

Until last year, Ayako, who guesses he's in his 60s, was better off than
many in South Omo, an 8,600-square-mile (22,360- square-kilometer) region of
livestock herders, subsistence farmers and coffee growers. He owned hundreds
of chickens, 40 goats, 30 sheep and 15 head of cattle, he said. His five
fields cover about 3 hectares (7.4 acres) in a country where 87 percent of
farms are smaller than 2 hectares.

Dirt turned to dust in his hands as he recalled the days when his three
wives prepared meals from his own crops: corn, sorghum and teff, a grain
used to make injera, Ethiopia's basic bread.

After sparse rainfall hurt his harvests, he traded animals for grain. Last
year, a 100-kilogram (220-pound) bag of corn cost one cow, he said. This
year, it's a cow and a goat, and there isn't enough grain available.

Lobbying Congress

Ayako's grandchildren might have survived if the U.S. purchased food closer
to Ethiopia, Georgetown's Natsios said.

"It would increase the amount of food available, and the time to deliver it
would be less," Natsios said. "We'd be able to get his family more food,
more quickly."

After failing to act on Bush's local-purchase proposal, U.S. lawmakers in
June approved a four-year pilot program involving no more than $25 million a
year, about 1 percent of the 2008 U.S. food aid budget. In separate
legislation, Congress also authorized one-time spending of $50 million on
local purchases in 2009.

ADM, the world's largest grain processor, spent $1.78 million to lobby
Congress and federal agencies though Dec. 3 this year, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics, a non- partisan research group in Washington
that tracks spending on campaigns and lobbying. Over the past two decades,
the company's campaign contributions amounted to $8.2 million, 91st among
political donors, the center said. ADM declined to comment for this story.

Cargill, a closely held company that is the world's largest agricultural
business, spent $660,000 on lobbying this year, the center said. ADM,
Cargill and Bunge lobby on other issues besides the aid programs. Cargill
favors the added flexibility of local purchase, spokesman
nis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Bill Brady said in an e-mail.

 <http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=BG%3AUS> Bunge, the biggest
oilseed processor, devoted $395,000 to lobbying, according to the Center for
Responsive Politics. The company advocates the use of U.S. crops to ensure
quality, said
nis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Deb Seidel, a company spokeswoman.

'Support Not There'

"The support is not there in the Congress" to overhaul the system, said
ds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who is
chairman of the <http://agriculture.house.gov> House Agriculture Committee.

Peterson, mentioned as a possible Agriculture Secretary under
wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Barack Obama, received the second-most donations
from crop processors and farm groups among non- presidential candidates in
this election cycle, $236,500, according to the center. He ranked behind
ds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on
the Senate Agriculture Committee, with $304,349.

nis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat who is chairman of the
Agriculture Committee, and panel Republicans
wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Thad Cochran of Mississippi and
nnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Pat Roberts of Kansas are among the top 10 non-
presidential recipients. The list also includes three Democratic members of
the House Agriculture Committee,
=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Bob Etheridge of North Carolina and
s=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Dennis Cardoza and
is&sort=date:D:S:d1> Jim Costa, both of California.

'Amazing' Process

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the biggest U.S. farmer group, has
"always had a little reluctance to cash aid," said its president,
ds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Robert Stallman. The current system encourages
domestic political support and prevents funding cuts, he said.

Obama pledged to make USAID a "restructured, empowered and streamlined"
agency that's "more nimble in the face of change," according to a position
paper on his
tion_and_Development_FINAL.pdf> campaign Web site. Transition spokesman Nick
Shapiro declined to elaborate.

Near Minot, North Dakota, Larry Kersten, 68, grows wheat,
<http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=BAEYUSND%3AIND> barley,
<http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=CNOLUSND%3AIND> canola and peas
on 6,000 acres. His family has farmed in the area since the early 1900s. He
says he is pleased that some of his harvest helps Africans in need.

"Quite amazing, all the process it must go through to get there," he said.

At the beginning of April, the USDA bought Kersten's peas through Premier
Pulses International Inc., a Minot-based broker. At the same time, the
Agriculture Department also purchased sorghum from Cargill, wheat from ADM,
and blended corn and soybeans from Bunge to fulfill aid requests from other
countries including Zimbabwe and Sudan.

$16 a Bushel

The agency paid about $16 a bushel for the peas, which included BNSF Railway
Co.'s fee for hauling them in May more than 1,800 miles to Lake Charles.

By publishing what it pays, the government provides market data for peas,
which aren't traded on any major U.S. commodity exchange, said Mike Watson,
manager of Premier Pulses' office in Lewiston, Idaho.

The aid programs' ability to affect markets varies. While less than 1
percent of U.S. corn is exported as food aid, according to USDA data, about
a seventh of the pea crop is, according to the USA Dry Pea and Lentil
Council in Moscow, Idaho.

The peas spent June in a 255,840-square-foot (2.4 hectares) warehouse,
waiting for the John A. Chapman, a 27,000-ton Sealift ship. The GAO found
that ocean freight rates for U.S. food aid averaged $171 a metric ton in
2006, compared with the $100 that the WFP reported as its cost.

25,000 Maritime Jobs

The aid programs' transport rules protect American shipping companies from
foreign competition and help ensure there is a domestic fleet in case of
war, said Gloria Tosi, a maritime consultant and Washington lobbyist who
represents Sealift and Liberty Maritime, the two largest U.S. food aid
transporters. They also ensure the quality of what's delivered, she said.

About 25,000 maritime-related jobs depend on the aid plans, Tosi said,
citing an industry study, and much of the U.S. domestic fleet, including
almost all of Liberty's, is designed to carry humanitarian aid, she said.

"Losing in-kind food aid would be devastating," Tosi said.

Liberty Maritime has spent $287,000 on lobbying this year and Sealift,
$27,000, according to the CRP data. Sea transport companies' political
campaign contributions totaled almost $5 million, this election cycle.
Neither company would comment for this story and referred questions to Tosi.

Four Grandchildren Die

In June, Congress voted to increase the Food for Peace budget 48 percent to
$2.62 billion. Senator
s=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said the
food crisis threatened "the health and survival of millions of people."

The next month, as the number of undernourished rose, the WFP and the
Ethiopian government cut rations to villagers by a third, citing supply

By then, four of Ayako's grandchildren had died. Many of his extended family
members were eating wild plants, he said. As food supplies dwindled,
Ethiopians resorted to "famine foods" -- plants and roots, some of them
toxic, "that desperate people eat when there is nothing left," said Jennifer
Parmelee, a WFP spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

"Because we are eating these grasses and cabbage, it makes you weak and
kills you," Ayako said. He tried to save some of the children's lives by
slaughtering a goat.

"They don't have the appetite to eat the meat," he said.

History of Famine

Malnourishment weakens the organs and leaves the digestive system unable to
process meat, so starving people don't feel like eating it, Parmelee said.

On July 8, starting at 7 a.m., five teams of 17 longshoremen began filling
the Chapman with 280 tons of peas for Ethiopia, more peas for the Congo,
wheat and lentils for Syria and dry beans for Iraq. The Chapman set sail
July 20.

Ethiopia, one of the world's oldest countries and Africa's second-most
populous behind Nigeria, has had famines throughout its history. A 1973 food
shortage helped depose
p&getfields=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Emperor Haile Selassie. Others in 1984
and 1985 killed more than 1 million people.

Millions in Need

Since then, the government has improved aid distribution and tried to
modernize agriculture. While the country's population of 82.5 million grows
at an annual rate of
3.2 percent, its corn, wheat and sorghum crops may shrink 9.7 percent this
year, according to U.S. government data.

Food-aid advocates, including Oxfam and CARE, say the Ethiopian government
was slow to increase this year's estimate of people in need of emergency
help, curbing international assistance.

In April, the projection rose to 2.2 million from 860,000. It reached 4.6
million in June. Based on surveys from July, the government increased the
number to 6.4 million in October, a month after aid organizations started
using that number in their fundraising.

It's still about half the 12.5 million Ethiopians that the WFP says need
additional assistance because of the drought.

Addisu Legesse, the country's deputy prime minister, disputes that number.
Aid organizations tend to exaggerate because big statistics help them raise
funds, he said in an interview over tea in his wood-paneled office.

To the Warehouse

Legesse, who until October was also Ethiopia's agriculture minister, takes
issue with his government's estimate too.

"There are not millions," he said, and Ethiopia isn't "begging" for food. As
for Ayako, he added that one farmer's story doesn't reflect an entire

Two more of Ayako's grandchildren died about the time the Chapman set out
for Africa. The seventh died while the ship was on its way.

It arrived Aug. 25 in Djibouti. The peas were trucked to Nazareth, where
they sat for about a month in the region's largest warehouse. It and other
area storage centers, along with a U.S. unit opened in Djibouti last year,
are meant to keep commodities on hand for emergencies. Peas received earlier
were distributed first.

By September, in the Southern Nations region of Ethiopia, which includes
South Omo, 1.5 million people needed immediate food aid, according to the
UN. Area hospitals had admitted more than 33,000 children for severe acute
malnutrition, typified by arms less than 110 millimeters (4.4 inches) in
circumference or a ratio of weight to height less than 70 percent of the

Animal Supply Dwindles

Ayako's trek to the food distribution center in Shala-Luka, about 400 miles
from Addis Ababa, on Oct. 16 -- World Food Day -- yielded about 11 kilograms
of grains, peas and lentils and 300 grams of vegetable oil. It was enough to
supply about 1,300 calories a day for a month. The minimum for staving off
malnourishment is 1,800 calories, according to the UN <http://www.fao.org>
Food and Agriculture Organization. The average American consumes
> more than 3,700.

Ayako is running out of farm animals to slaughter or barter for food. By
October, he owned one chicken, one rooster, four goats, four sheep and three
head of cattle.

Aid organizations are seeking more funds, said
elds=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Josette Sheeran, executive director of the WFP.
Her agency expects a $465 million shortfall for Ethiopia by April.

"We're not out of the woods yet," she said.

During the last famine that so threatened Ayako's community, in the 1980s,
"some people survived eating the wastes of their cattle, some even the skins
of their cattle," he said. "Sometimes we wonder if that time is going to
repeat itself now."

(Recipe for Famine: Part 1 of 7.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
nnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Alan Bjerga in Washington at
<mailto:abjerga@bloomberg.net> abjerga@bloomberg.net.


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