Friday, August 12, 2005

A Plague of Locusts on the WaPo

Craig Newmark and Don Boudreaux both note a Washington Post article that would earn a failling grade in Econ 101, on the famine in Niger. I.e., that food shortages are caused by food shortages, and oh yeah, by price gouging.

What the Post story doesn't tell us is that Niger has had twin disasters, drought and locusts, that devasted the 2004 Niger crops:

“It was very clear from October last year. We monitor this region very closely due to its vulnerability. The warnings were given very early,” says Jean Senahoun, of Global Information and Early Warning System in Rome, a part of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Senahoun was among the researchers involved in the December 2004 special report on the Niger food forecast, which predicted the country would fall short of nearly 300,000 tonnes of food – about 7% of the country’s total need – before the next harvest in October 2005. The devastating failure of the October 2004 harvest was two-thirds due to severe droughts and one-third due to the locust infestation that swept through West Africa.

Which would mean food in short supply, meaning prices rise.

[Update] Melana Zyla Vickers adds that there's very little free trade involved here:

The obstacles to new business development and foreign business participation are manifold. Much of the agricultural sector is still government-run. Worst of all, tiny Niger, in which only 15% of the land is arable and non-desert, depends on its neighbors for cereal imports every year. But this year, those command-controlled neighbors, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali, are restricting exports to Niger, despite the fact that they've signed trade treaties against such hoarding. In other words, Niger's children are starving because of a failure to trade freely, and not a failure of the free market.

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