Did Malawi Defeat Famine by Defying the World Bank?

December 16, 2007 04:49 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Malawi’s president increases fertilizer aid to farmers and the harvest improves substantially, prompting a reappraisal of U.S. and EU policymakers’ and the World Bank’s stance on agricultural subsidies.

30-Second Summary

In an effort to overcome a year of famine in 2005, during which more than one-third of the population required emergency food aid, Malawian President Bingu Was Mutharika ignored the advice of global agriculture leaders and provided farmers with fertilizer subsidies.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank reacted to what it saw as inefficiencies in the Malawian government, cutting agricultural assistance and urging the country to focus on producing non-edible cash crops for export and to use the profit to import food.

In return, the World Bank supplied aid, but the country remained destitute and dependent on food from outside sources.

Now, according to The New York Times, Malawi is selling more corn than any other country in Southern Africa.

In response to Malawi’s agricultural success, the World Bank has published a defense of its policies on its Web site. The accusation that Malawi’s situation improved only through ignoring World Bank advice receives the following response: “The only thing the Bank advised against was a universal subsidy, which the Government of Malawi concurred with. The Government eventually implemented (and is still implementing) a targeted subsidy.”

Meanwhile, the 1933 Farm Bill, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to American farmers, remains under debate. Changes are being considered that would improve the situation for small farms in the United States and in developing countries, which many claim are stifled by Western overproduction.

Headline Links: ‘Ending Famine Simply by Ignoring the Experts’

Reactions: World Bank supports ‘targeted subsidies’

Opinion & Analysis: Do subsidies contribute to a ‘cycle of poverty’ in Africa?

Historical Context: The Great Depression era U.S. Farm Bill

Reference Material: The effect of U.S. subsidies on developing economies and the environment


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