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5/13/2008 3:43 PM
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American farmers are not causing Third World famine
CLIFF MAY, Scripps Howard
Friday, May 9, 2008
It's become the conventional wisdom and William Tucker, writing in The Weekly Standard,
expressed it most eloquently: "Right now, we're trying to run our cars on corn ethanol instead of
gasoline. As a result, we suddenly find ourselves taking food out of the mouths of children in
developing nations. That may sound harsh, but it also happens to be true."
The suggestion is that American farmers are growing corn primarily to feed children in the Third
World. And since people in these nations lack not only food but also money, it assumes that
American taxpayers must buy this corn and pay to ship it to them.
Implicit in this argument is the notion that developing
nations are not developing, and never will be. Instead,
they must depend on Americans for basic subsistence. Is
this the model that we accept and envision for the future?
As a reporter, I've witnessed famines. I know what a
nightmare they are. When a famine occurs, there is
nothing to do but get food as quickly as possible to the
starving. But it is a mistake to view famine as the natural
state of the "developing" world, to believe that people
must remain helpless.
People often think that relief and development are a
single discipline. They are more opposite. Development
means helping people learn to produce food for themselves. With a little development, a nation can
avoid famine. Relief is what you provide when development fails.
But the moment you send free food, you collapse local prices and pauperize farmers who have
managed to raise crops and who want to sell them.
In Africa, where I once served as a New York Times bureau chief, people are not poor because they
are unwilling to work hard or because they can't master agricultural skills, or