Food Policy: The “Iron Lady” Vervus The World Bank



By J. Yanqui Zaza


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 17, 2006


Could our President-elect, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf influence the World Bank (WB) to abandon its antagonism toward the idea of a state becoming a guarantor of food, a policy that would provide jobs and save her children? Dr. Lawrence Amos Zumo, a Liberian neurologist residing in Maryland, USA, commenting on Emily Wax’s article, said the 2005 elections, held after wicked, murderous years, without sustainable programs such as food production, might not save our children and our nation. Emily Wax, in an article carried by the Washington Post (12/23/05), said that children are found in drug addiction, sexual abuse, panhandling, etc because parents have failed to provide food, shelter and fees for education. Emily Wax based his conclusion on interviews he had with children in major African cities, including Khartoum, Sudan; Kinshasa, Congo; Nairobi, Kenya, etc. Our Liberian children are worse than some of the interviewees. Our children have become child-soldiers, waiting to be hired as rebels, because of economic conditions such as parents’ low cash-flow from exports (cash crops) to cover the cost of education, housing, imports (rice).

What recommendations would the "Iron Lady" submit to the WB for its experts to end importing food and support the idea of food sufficiency in Liberia? Is it possible for the WB to make Liberia self-sufficient in food production although it has failed in countless countries since coming into existence in 1945? By the way, does the "Iron Lady" believe in the food self-sufficiency policies, if any, of the WB? Yves Engler (Global Policy Forum, 10/9/03) reiterated the views of many economists who claimed that the World Bank does not support the policies of food sufficiency for reasons such as: 1) that agricultural self-sufficiency offers little in the way of profit-making opportunities for banks or other multinational corporations; 2) that the production of staple food, primarily consumed locally, does not increase a country’s foreign currency exchange to be used in repaying loan owed to the WB; 3) that a country would enhance her independence because corporations would not have the privilege to influence the price of its staple food since prices of cash crops (exports) are already determined by profiteers.

Predictably, the idea of Liberia becoming self-sufficient in food production might even take a geo-political dimension if China, a communist country, is involved. China’s collectivize agriculture (i.e., anti-capitalistic food policy), which began in the 1950s, has had a remarkable success in food production. (Foodfirst-Institute for Food and Development Policy based in Oakland, California, USA). So, how would the WB view China's agricultural donations of US $1million dollars to Liberia (The Analyst 1/9/06) and China's pledge (The Analyst, 12/13/05) to send 100 Liberian officials to China as part of the efforts to make Liberia self-sufficient in food production? Would the WB allow China to help Liberia in becoming self-sufficient in food production? Let us hope that the WB’s concerns discussed by Yves Engler (Global Policy Forum, 10/9/03) do not affect Liberia. Also, let us hope that the cold war attitude does not affect this food policy as it, apparently, affected the scholarship program in 1980. China and Liberia had entered into an educational program in 1980 to send over hundreds of students for advanced studies. Without any information, the People’s Redemption Council of Liberia cancelled many bilateral agreements with countries labeled as socialists, including the academic programs offered by China.

Even if one were to discount the effect of the cold war attitude, many experts said there is no evidence out there to indicate that the WB would radically alter its economic programs. They stated that the WB is aware of many experts’ conclusion that the policies are inimical to poor countries. For example, the Bretton Woods Project’s evaluation, dated November 21, 2005, concluded that the World Banks Community Developments efforts are ineffective, poorly monitored and unsustainable. Also summarizing the WB policies, Jim Lobe (Global Policy Forum, 09/19/05), stated that “…a case study of 13 developing countries, conclude that the indirect control exercised by the WB over recipient governments’ macroeconomic policies is straitjacketing their ability to deal with urgent social, health, and economic issues.”

Just as the 13 countries are trying to recover, Zambia is faced with famine, because it also adopted some economic policies of the WB. Nigeria is added to the list of victims. Olly Owen (Global Policy Forum, 10/25/04) stated that 120 million Nigerians are living on US$2 because of the privatization offered by the WB. In Ghana, where the WB had invited the incoming Liberian legislators for a seminar, the WB policies of privatization have forced the redeployment of over 1,280 workers of the Ghanaian Water and Sewer Company, (Business News, August 24, 2005). In the case of Burkina Faso in the 1990’s, the WB policies shifted the strategy of food production to cotton, but only to realize that Burkina Faso had abundance of cotton at an unfavorable price, but an insufficient quantity of food. Three Liberian writers have differed with the views of one of the economic advisors of the "Iron Lady." The advisor, echoing policies of the WB, stated that Liberia would benefit by continuing to produce cash crops and import its staple food.

If the WB were to make any country an exception to its policies, I guess Iraq would have been a prime candidate. This country is now indirectly under the control of the United States, an influential shareholder of the WB. Instead of changing, the WB is carrying out policies that would end up creating the same kind of conditions in countries including those countries in South America where majority of the population has turned against her and the United States. Basav Sen and Hope Chu (Global Policy Forum (September, 2005), for example, concluded that the WB has retired 500,000 government workers and increased prices of commodities by privatizing all state-owned enterprise except oil. More so, it has made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to plant their owned seed and required them by law to plant only “protected” crop varieties, thereby shifting profits from farmers to profiteers.

Besides the wrong economic policies, US Senator Richard Lugar said at that the WB is corrupt. According to Lugar, during the US Congressional hearing in 2004, the WB had allowed over $100 billion dollars to be stolen by bureaucrats and contractors, some of which were WB’s subsidiaries (Bretton Woods Project, November 21, 2005). Also Susan Hawley, in TI’s Global Corruption Report 2005, stated that most of the large infrastructure projects around the world were backed by the WB. In addition, testimonies of experts demonstrated the flaw in the assertions of WB that government is evil and corrupt but private sectors are full of glories and less corrupt. WB's dishonesty goes beyond corruption. For example, Dean Baker David Rosnick (Center for Economic and Policy, 9/16/03) stated that many countries have yet to recover from the consequences of an increase in interest rates and cut in spending because of the WB's overly optimistic projections in growth. In fact the WB has and continues to use economic projections in influencing elections in many countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, etc.

To fulfill Liberia’s food program, the “Iron Lady,” might have to persuade not only the professionals of the WB, but her own lieutenants. Many of our Americo-Liberian and indigenous professionals continue to act irresponsibly to those citizens who have less. The privileged few, apparently having been insulated from the consequences of a corrupt system, hold the view that their success is based on the efforts of pulling themselves by their bootstraps, and not because of the connections of siblings or friends. And unfortunately, they don’t link the poverty conditions of the majority to the fact that the majority had unfavorable economic conditions such as the low price offered for their cash crops and high price required for their staple food. Parents with meager cash could not send their children to attend high school let alone achieve advanced education. The "Iron Lady" could remind her advisors that self- sufficiency in food policy, besides providing direct monetary benefits to farmers, would reduce malnutrition, hunger and poor academic performance of our children. More so, no superpower would use food to blackmail our country, nor would the cost of shipping affect the price of our staple food. The “Iron Lady” has the advantage, first, as a former employee, and second, as the first female president of a war-ravaged country, to encourage her lieutenants and the WB to give Liberia a chance in feeding her children and ending the circle of violence that could ensure under unstable conditions.