The reality behind the smiles

Food aid is used by rich western nations to manipulate and coerce the people of the South rather than to help redress the plunder of hundreds of years of imperialism, exploitation and deliberate underdevelopment. The last time food is sent is when it’s needed, even when the alternative is to let it rot.

Brian Denny investigates.

The sight of EU officials claiming it would be wrong to send the Brussels rice mountain to feed the starving in the Horn of Africa because it will damage the market tells us a lot about the monster which rules us. Italian rice-growers pleaded for their stockpiles, hoarded under the Common Agricultural Policy, to be used to feed the world’s hungry, but European Commission spokesman Grego Kreuzhuber gave a cold ‘No’ in response, arguing that ‘We have a huge structural surplus and we need to balance the market. But it’s wrong to say this could be solved either through dumping goods or by giving it away as food aid. We need to reform the sector.’

The Italian Rice Industry Association (AIRI) disagrees, noting that EU paddy rice stocks of 500,000 tonnes, nearly half of which are of Italian origin, were in danger of rotting and should be used where needed.

The call came after the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that up to 16 million people face starvation in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, following years of drought. At the same time, increasing quantities of rice are being poured into so-called intervention stocks, under which food is bought at guaranteed prices as part of the EU’s farm policy. AIRI estimates that EU taxpayers had paid over Euros 100 million for the rice stocks and 1 million per month to store them, and that delivery of EU rice to Africa would cut these costs. According to the Association, ‘Excessive rice in the EU could be used to reach the needy, and would represent at the same time a considerable saving of resources.’

AIRI director Roberto Carriere points out that ‘If the EU does not use these stocks for food aid as quickly as possible, they will deteriorate and have to be destroyed. While the appeals of the UN to rich countries multiply in order to save millions of seriously malnourished people, the EU risks having to destroy thousands of tonnes of rice for which it has paid.’

Ethiopia has accused rich countries of waiting until they see ‘skeletons on screens’ before answering appeals. Oxfam has also said that aid was not arriving fast enough, accusing the EU authorities of dragging their feet. ‘The EC failed to meet its commitment last year, providing little more than half the food it promised. It is now more than one year behind on its pledges,’ a spokesperson said.

This is the reality behind the smiles at the recent EU-Africa summit in Cairo. After centuries of colonial exploitation EU leaders now have the gall to claim that the main cause of low levels of development in Africa is ‘corruption’. The patronising, racist message is clear - it’s your own fault.

Brussels also demanded that Africa drop trade barriers - designed to protect beleaguered economies - in order to allow EU goods to flood the continent’s fragile markets.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came closer to a real explanation of Africa’s problems when he said Western aid had fallen sharply during the last two decades, while commodity prices had fallen and the continent’s share of world trade shrunk. ‘Under these unfavourable external conditions,’ Mubarak said, ‘the African debt crisis has aggravated into unprecedented dimensions.’

Brian Denny is foreign editor of the UK socialist daily, the Morning Star. A longer version of this article appeared in The Democrat, the magazine of the (UK) Campaign Against Euro-federalism.