The gory details of famine in Niger are making headlines again, with pictures of old and young scavenging for food. This second-poorest country in the world suffers from drought and locusts, but also heavy state intervention. Half its income is from international aid. Instead of finding solutions to the production shortage, many in the aid industry attribute the famine to the government\'s lame market reforms.
In a command economy, growth remains elusive. Take for instance the great famines of the 20th century in China (25 to 40 million deaths), Soviet Ukraine (7- to 10-million), North Korea (2- to 3-million) and
But Niger\'s agricultural sector is still government run and mainly subsistent farming. This does not encourage quick responses to changing conditions or bad harvests. The locusts in power are well fed so there is a tendency to pretend that all is well without bothering about the starvation their policies cause.
The crisis is further compounded by regional trade barriers. World Bank figures show that African nations slam tariffs as high as 33,6% on agricultural commodities from their neighbors.
Some groups have blamed Niger\'s famine on its alleged \"free market\" policies. In fact,
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs face government regulations and restrictions at every turn: for example, the cost of setting up a company is equivalent to about four years\' average income. These problems are compounded by inflexible labor laws, which discourage people taking on employees and so prevent the development of larger-scale businesses. No wonder there is so much poverty.
People are starving in Niger, Zambia,
More aid won\'t solve these problems -- so far it has perpetuated poverty, corrupt politicians and malign policies. Rich countries should lead by example, committing themselves to liberalizing trade and reducing subsidies -- then maybe political leaders in Africa will follow suit.