Keeping Africa on the brink of starvation

Billions of desert locusts have descended again on East Africa. Crawling first, then sprouting wings and flying in hungry hoards of 40-150 million or more, they are devastating crops and threatening tens of millions of people with lost livelihoods and starvation. This latest locust plague, says the United Nations, is the worst in 70 years for Kenya, the worst in 25 years for Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Locust swarms can blanket scores or hundreds of square miles at a time, travel 80 miles a day, and consume more than 400 million pounds of vegetation daily, Africa Fighting Malaria cofounder Richard Tren notes. The insects increase their numbers logarithmically, meaning numbers can be 500 times higher in six months. In Ethiopia, on January 9, a massive swarm nearly brought down a Boeing 737 jetliner.

Many fear the voracious insects could soon reach croplands in South Sudan, Uganda, and even Asia.

Despite past history, UN Food and Agricultural Organization officials say this is an “unprecedented threat” to food security, one “of international dimensions.” It’s “a far more serious emergency than we had earlier anticipated,” an African official said. “Please do not wait to act,” FAO Deputy-Director-General Helena Semedo pleaded at a February 7 gathering of “international experts” and African leaders.

Desperate Africans are responding with “time-tested” methods: whistling and shouting loudly, banging on metal buckets, waving blankets and sticks, crushing the bugs – perhaps even roasting and eating them, under UN-approved nutrition programs. In Eritrea, they are using “more advanced” methods: hand-held and truck-mounted sprayers. In Kenya, police are firing machine guns and tear gas into the swarms!

Fenitrothion is a highly effective pesticide against locust swarms. But only in Ethiopia, it seems, are they spraying pesticides from small airplanes. Fenitrothion supplies are extremely limited – and aerial spraying is too expensive for cash-strapped countries, too dangerous in areas wracked by radical Muslim insurgencies, and minimally effective against such massive swarms with so few available aircraft. And it takes days for pesticide-phobic farmers to move cattle and goats out of areas that could be sprayed.

In this era of incredible modern agricultural and insect control technologies, when American farmers get 3-5 times more crop yields per acre than 50 years ago¬¬ – how is it possible that Africa remains perpetually on the brink of starvation? That Africa faces yet another locust plague of biblical pharaoh proportions? That Africans must rely on absurd “time-tested,” almost totally ineffective locust control methods?

Incredibly, this looming catastrophe is due to policies and programs that have been officially adopted and deliberately implemented by the very UN agencies that are now crying loudest about the horrific situation.

For years now, the FAO, UN Development Programme and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) have been working in cahoots with some of the most radical environmentalist pressure groups on Earth to devise and impose “agroecology” – a perverse combination of socialism, pseudo-ecology and primitive, anti-technology agriculture. The program is financed and advanced by the UN, by European governments via their development agencies and funding of environmentalist NGOs – and even by US taxpayers, who provide 22% of UN funding and underwrite grants to and tax-exempt status for environmentalist groups.

Agroecology is above all political. It rejects virtually everything that has enabled modern agriculture to feed billions more people from less acreage. It rabidly opposes monoculture farming, hybrid seeds, synthetic/non-organic insecticides and fertilizers, biotechnology … and even mechanized equipment like tractors! It claims Dr. Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, which saved a billion people from starvation, did little more than put global food production “under the control of a few transnational corporations.”

Acceptance of agroecology tenets and restrictions has become a condition for poor farmers getting seeds, and their countries and local communities getting development loans and food aid. Mid-level bureaucrats get cushy jobs overseeing and propagandizing agroecology campaigns, while ruling elites get more opportunities to siphon off additional millions in international aid money. They still erect roadblocks to Golden Rice, which could save 2 million parents and children a year from blindness and death.

AgroEcology advocates extol “food sovereignty” and the “right to subsistence farming.” They promote “indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices,” to the exclusion of knowledge, practices, technologies and equipment that have been developed in recent decades – and could help end Africa’s perpetual poverty, malnutrition, disease, joblessness and early death. They sow fear about pesticides and GM food.

Instead of transforming and modernizing African agriculture, the UN, FAO, UNEP, and radical groups like Food First, La Via Campesina, Greenpeace and IFOAM Organics International demand “culturally appropriate” food produced through “ecologically sound and sustainable methods,” as only they can twist those terms to serve their sick determination to negate and roll back human progress.

FAO Steering Committee member Miguel Altieri insists that all this will promote “resiliency” in African food production. The locust plague and imminent starvation underscore just how “resilient” agroecology has made East Africa. There’s barely enough food for good times, much less days of droughts and locusts. Modern agriculture could turn much of Africa into a bread basket – but the lunatics won’t allow it.

In 2012, Kenya banned biotech (GM or GMO) food, even as highly successful pilot projects were doubling and tripling crop yields for Kenyan and South African farmers, and ending plant diseases that had devastated papaya and cassava crops. Now, even as locusts wipe out staple food crops, rabid NGOs are pressuring Kenya’s Parliament to ban over 200 pesticides that have been approved as safe for crops, wildlife and people by Kenyan authorities and by regulators in the USA, Canada and other nations.

Meanwhile, well-fed Uhura Kenyatta, president of Kenya since 2013, resorts to the typical cop-out: the locust plague is the result of climate change. And Kenya’s Ministry of Health says, even if there is a severe famine and a threat to loss of life, “every effort” will be made to “source [imported] food from non-GMO sources, failing which emergency GM food may be allowed in.” Shades of Zambia 2002!

Adding to the insanity, in late January the United Nations claimed it needed “more than $70 million from donors” to address the locust crisis. For 2020, the UN budget is $3.1 billion; the FAO’s is $1 billion; the UNEP’s $790 million; and the Green Climate Fund has some $2 billion, plus pledges of some $6 billion.

Surely, these outfits can find a measly $70 million in these bloated treasuries to address a genuine humanitarian crisis – even if they have to claw it away from agroecology and similarly useless programs.

And what about the rights of African farmers who don’t want to practice agroecology, who want to use modern seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and machinery? Do the FAO and UN Human Rights Commission support those rights of self-determination? Why isn’t the HRC blasting the NGOs, EU countries and UN agencies for these human rights violations and the misery, malnutrition, disease and death they cause?

Agroecology burdens African farmers “with systems that my grandfather gave up on 125 years ago,” Indiana farmer and US Ambassador to the FAO and other Rome-based UN agencies Kip Tom told people attending the February 20 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum dinner. Whereas previous FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva was deeply involved in the agroecology movement, thankfully his replacement (Qu Dongyu of China) is a scientist who seems “willing to work with” American farmers and the Trump Administration “to feed a growing and hungry world,” Ambassador Tom added.

Agroecology represents eco-imperialism at its worst. Under any fair and balanced application of their own beliefs and standards, today’s “woke” environmental, campus and progressive activists would charge the organizations imposing agroecology on Africa with eco-manslaughter. But that will never happen.

President Trump, the Agriculture Department and Congress should loudly and publicly stigmatize the FAO, UN and EU and their NGOs – and terminate any funding and tax exemptions that support agroecology. US agencies should devote their resources to rooting out this perverse system and helping Africa bring modern agriculture, disease control, health and living standards to its mistreated families.

The Ethiopian Herald Friday 28 February 2020


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