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Scrutator: Monstrous food mountains

EUROPEAN Community food mountains are a slap in the face of the Third World. Consider the immorality of the fact that the equivalent of around eight years' worth of Somali grain consumption is languishing unwanted in EC warehouses.

Yet the true nature of the insult is not the reluctance of the West to use that grain for emergency relief. Talk to the aid agencies and they make it clear that the EC and America are all too happy to remove grain from its expensive storage and give it away in circumstances that bring the added kudos of world approval.

The immediate problem in Somalia is one of distribution, not supplies.

Admittedly, it is a shame that donors are often reluctant to allow emergency food aid to be sold rather than given away free.

Often, using the existing market is the most efficient way to distribute food in an emergency situation, even if at subsidised prices. Putting in the paraphernalia that goes with free distribution is costly and often creates problems by undermining the existing infrastructure.

Nevertheless, it is not the use to which the mountains are being put but their existence that is such an affront. For they are the all-too-solid symbols of the sordid politics of global food subsidies.

The stocks in the Community's grain bins reflect a protectionist system that prevents developing nations from undertaking legitimate trade with their neighbours, and even sometimes undermines their self-sufficiency.

For the West to 'subsidise' sales to developing nations in the name of food aid sounds fine in principle. But lift the stone.

Usually you will find governments seeking to solve the problem of where to find markets for the unwanted grain grown by their subsidised farmers.

Unfortunately, such non-emergency food aid easily wrecks the delicate indigenous economic and agricultural relationships of developing countries.

Take Peru. Twenty years ago it was broadly self-sufficient in food. But then along came the United States looking for new markets for its farmers. In tow were the big banks looking for new markets for their loans.

Add in an unpopular Peruvian government that saw short-term votes in cheap food and you had a recipe for disaster. Peru's farmers could not compete; wheat production has virtually ceased.

The loss of the farmers' livelihood has accentuated the drift to the towns; urbanisation has led to discontent and helped to foster the ugly political state in which Peru now finds itself.

Yet this situation is set to worsen. Last week, the United States offered 30 million tons of subsidised wheat to 28 countries under the Orwellian sounding 'export enhancement programme' - 12 million tons more than last year.

This raises the question, who is the donor and who the beneficiary of such aid? It is bad enough that developed world consumers have to stump up the money to subsidise developed world farmers. But to expect the Third World to meet the bill is monstrous.