2008 August 10 Sunday
Sudan Exports Food While Darfur Refugees Starve

The Sudanese government is engaged in a multi-billion dollar program to grow food for export while the people in Darfur starve.

ED DAMER, Sudan Even as it receives a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in its war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat.

Why should we effectively subsidize a country that has decided to starve a portion of its population? I can think of other ways to deal with the situation. For example, Western diplomats could propose to spin off Darfur into a separate country with the argument that the Sudanese government has decided that it does not want the Darfur populace anyway.

This question is part of a bigger issue illustrated by Bosnia and Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia and South Ossetia in Georgia: should ethnic conflicts compel redrawing lines of sovereignty? The US government seems to oppose this when it sees advantage in opposing redrawn lines but at the same time it favors the redrawing when policy makers see some sort of advantage for perceived US interests. Though the policy makers are often not good at calculating US interests.

We send Sudan sorghum at considerable expense and they export a similar quanity of sorghum. Why not just buy the sorghum in Sudan and ship that sorghum into Darfur?

Take sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in flat, spongy bread. Last year, the United States government, as part of its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Oddly enough, that is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice that amount, even as the United Nations is being forced to cut rations to Darfur.

The higher Sudanese sorghum output suggests they have plenty to sell to aid agencies. But the aid agencies say the Sudanese can make more money selling to Arab countries. The Arabs provide the money for agricultural investments to put more land under plow. The Nile provides the water. Does the US subsidize its sales of sorghum to aid agencies? I do not understand why US sorghum should be cheaper. Maybe the Sudanese quote a higher price to the aid agencies than what they sell for to Arab Muslim countries?

Getting aid through to the refugees is becoming more difficult.

That leaves the United Nations and Western aid groups feeding more than three million Darfurians. But the lifeline is fraying. Security is deteriorating. Aid trucks are getting hijacked nearly every day and deliveries are being made less and less frequently. The result: less food and soaring malnutrition rates, particularly among children.

Sudan's 40 million population is growing at over 2% per year. While 70% are Sunni Muslim the CIA World Factbook puts Sudan at only 39% Arab. So a substantial fraction of the blacks are Muslim as well. If we supplied and promoted birth control device usage in Sudan then we could reduce the hunger problem. Though that would probably not make the Sudanese government any more accepting of Christian and animist black Africans within the sovereign borders of Sudan.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 August 10 01:27 PM  Ethnic Conflict

beowulf said at August 12, 2008 12:22 PM:

Come on Randall, If a government action defies common sense and yet keeps on keeping on, it means someone is making a buck. In this case, American farmers. It'd be far more cost-efficient for the US to buy crops from farmers in developing countries and then distribute it to the starving in other developing countries-- we'd help out two poor groups and save money on shipping and other transaction costs (that Sudan has both farmers and the starving is a marker of wretched government. Wasn't it Amartya Sen who documented that famines never occur in legitimate democracies?).

US foreign aid law requires that all food aid be purchased from American farmers. Personally, I'm fond of farmers (especially my girlfriend's family), and I think crop insurance to protect against low market prices or natural disasters is a reasonable government program, but agriculture subsidies have many pernicious effects-- sugar tariffs make Coca-Cola and other food products use corn syrup instead of the superior sugar cane, ethanol subsidies lead to the overproduction of corn grown for fuel instead of food and as we see here, domestic content laws make foreign aid more expensive than it needs to be.
consistently show Americans think some absurdly high amount of the federal budget goes to foreign aid and that we spend too much on it (I've quote
On the other hand, requiring food aid to be domestically grown does have the benefit of creating a political constituency for foreign aid. Opinion pollsd a 2002 survey below). If US farmers have a reason to lobby for more foreign aid, I suppose that's for the good.

Interestingly, it seems that one of the most important reasons that so many Americans say they want to cut foreign aid is that they drastically overestimate the amount of money that is being spent on it... When asked what percentage of the federal budget they think goes to foreign aid, the median estimate is an extraordinary 25% of the budget, more than 25 times the actual level of just under 1%. Only 2% of Americans give a correct estimate of 1% of the budget or less. When asked how much of the federal budget should go to foreign aid, the median response is a remarkable 10% of the budget, or more than 10 times as much aid as is currently being given. Only 13% of Americans say that the appropriate percentage would be 1% or less.

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2008 7:20 PM:


The actions of the Sudanese government do not defy common sense. They want the non-Muslims dead. So selling food abroad allows them to achieve 2 goals at once: Make money, kill enemies.

US food aid: But the US isn't the only country supplying money for food for Darfur.

Big Bill said at August 17, 2008 5:09 PM:

God, Please! No more meddling in Darfur. No matterwhat we do these people are going to starve and liberals will hold he nation collectively responsible. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society will insist that we take in hundreds of thousands of them to atone for our white bigotry of setting them up in their own (utterly incompetent) country. Probably move them all the Minneapolis so they and the Somalis can slaughter each other. Nix on that.

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