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Plague Locusts poised to destroy Sahelian Harvest

In an example of really bad timing, this years locust plague matures and moves south right after harvest time for millions of subsistence farmers on the Sahel, a disaster which was predictable, since the first signs of the plague emerged during last years torrential rain storms, that nearly flooded out the region, and created ideal locust plague conditions. This plague which in its first months, has already been described as worse than the worst year of the last plague in the 1980s, which is a pretty bad sign, since the current plague has only begun.

A plague of Locusts

The plague locusts produced by last years exceptional rains over the Sahel (bordering the southern Sahara Desert) are now poised to invade the crop producing regions with their arrival timed to coincide with the approach of harvest for millions of subsistence farmers in the area.

In Senegal, millions of locusts landed several weeks ago, and each can lay up to 90 eggs three times, creating many hundreds of millions of hopper larvae, which then take to the wing after about three weeks. There are reports that Senagalese farmers are waging 'hand to hand combat' against the insects using hoes and brushes and given that the hoppers can only jump a short distance they are also attempting corral them into large ditches and then bury them alive. Harvest time arrives in October, and given the three week maturation cycle of the insects, and then their repeated heavy multiplication millions of locusts could become hundreds of millions and then billions in a very short time.

Insecticides are being used as part of the battle, but if history is any indication, there has never been an example from history of insecticides ever stopping a locust plague (the plague is always halted by forces of nature, such as lack of rain or unfavorable winds, since the insects follow prevailing winds, which sometimes results in the swarms being dumped out into the open ocean...already there are reports of locusts appearing on islands hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic). The area to be treated with pesticides is enormous, almost spanning the continent at the present time, and there are always to many places for locusts to hide, to much rugged terrain and to many millions and millions of square miles of land to cover for spraying ever to have proven successful in stopping a locust plague. Poorer nations are also known to still be using pesticides that are regarded as so harmful (such as DDT as one example) that there use has been banned in wealthier nations (which ironically makes these brands cheap to purchase in poorer countries, since this is the only market that then remains). There are concerns being expressed over the impact on livestock, human health, the water supply, and the eco-system and what after effects will remain from the use of these pesticides. As well, there are signs of much finger pointing and recriminations, as it is said that in one country not enough is being done to spray pesticides, thus allowing the locusts to move on to the next country (even though it has never proved possible to stop a locust plague using pesticides).

Reports are coming in that the first swarms of locusts have been sighted in the troubled Darfur region of the Sudan, which is of concern for two reasons : first the Darfur has ideal locust breeding conditions which includes plenty of food and plenty of inaccessible and remote areas ideal for breeding undisturbed by humans with pesticides. The second reason for concern is that once plague locusts take hold in the Sudan they then have a base which allows them to spread into the Middle East and then across the Indian sub-continent. This last happened during the three year plague that spanned the years 1986 to 1988. There are reports that there are more locusts on the ground during this, the first year of the current plague, than there were during the peak year of 1988 during the last plague.

Conditions remain favorable for locust development, as the rains remain good, and an examination of the satellite imagery this summer shows that rain has been periodically advancing up into the southern regions of the Sahara desert from the Northern Sahel, with the difference so far being that while the rains are good this year, there is none of that /A> that there was last year, which for a time was threatening subsistence farmers with famine caused by flooding and this same weather disturbance also caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe as the heat of the Sahara was forced north in Europe leading to forests fires and last years record breaking temperatures. This rain pattern has also so far kept the locusts breeding in the Southern part of the Sahara desert and has so far spared most of the crop producing regions just further south on the Sahel, but at the same time has kept the locusts out of the line of fire of those insecticides, and now they are seen to be moving south just at harvest time.

It is worth noting here that computer climate models have linked warming of the Sea Surface Temperature in the Northern Atlantic with a predicted retreat and eventual disappearance of the Sahara desert (which only about six thousand years ago was covered with Savannah and swamp, including large numbers of such creatures as hippos and elephants). The same warming of the Atlantic has also been shown to be linked to Drought in the American West, with both the American drought and the weather disturbances on the Southern Sahara beginning about the same time (in the late 1990s) which would mean that the currently brewing giant locust plague, last years flooding and the heat wave in Europe and the conditions in the United States are all climate phenomena which are linked together and just smaller parts of a much larger story.

Famine and Debt

Now that Africa seems to be threatened with famine (after escaping the flooding last year-just barely) it seems a good time to speak briefly about what was called 'neo-liberlism' (but I usually call it robber baron capitalism) referring here to the policies imposed on both 'Second World' and 'Third World' countries over the past couple of decades. The purpose of this so called policy was supposed to be to bring the world's poorer countries (you know, the ones emerging from centuries of colonial exploitation, that's right, the poorer countries of the world) into the new dogmatic religious fold of the time - the market. Before this time colonialism brought them the religion of that time - Pauline Christianity and its salvations from the eternal damnations caused by some guy named Adam - and today the new religion brings them salvation from the eternal damnations of not having a proper economy which is regulated by what is called the invisible hand of the market, which like a god of some kind, has a way of making everything turn out just right. (And a good example of that invisible hand at work is the emerging peak oil phenomena, a fine example of how that invisible hand worked to make sure that alternative energy sources were developed to challenge the oil giants...but once again I digress).

You might recall the tempest from several years ago, during the last African famine, this time in the south, when the IMF denied that it forced Malawi to sell off its food reserves leaving the country to face famine while begging for money they then couldn't get. There were two different versions of events, one from the govt of Malawi and one from the IMF - apparently according to the reports the IMF was pressuring Malawi to pay debts. There was controversy over whether the government was making excuses for selling all the food reserves and attempting to use the IMF as a scape goat for internal political reasons. The IMF however also chose the same time to be withholding loans from Malawi until further cuts were made in govt spending while the U.S. restated its opposition to debt relief putting to rest that Jubilee 2000 idea. When we place this policy into historical context, and see it as the new form of colonialism, complete with a new religion to peddle, then we can understand that it would be pretty hard to make those carrots seem more attractive without that big stick being waved around as the alternative.

It is worth remembering here, now that famine is once again it seems about to hit the headlines, that the Live Aid Rock Concert for famine victims raised enough money in total to pay the interest on sub-Saharan African debt for less than 24 hours.

The roots of the debt crisis, and thus the roots of this latest upsurge of colonialism, go back to the time of Nixon, when this president decided that America would be able to attract more foreign capital, based on the strength of its currency in the world, if the dollar was taken off the gold standard. This sent shock waves throughout the world's financial system, and the short term effects included sky rocketing interest rates, which at their peak, reached 20 per cent at the end of the 1970s. Around the same time the Arab nations were punishing America for supporting Israel, using the technique of an oil embargo, which drove oil prices up to an equivalent of close to 80 dollars a barrel in today's inflation adjusted dollars. As well a development policy had been instituted before this time whereby poorer countries were encouraged to take out loans to epxand their trade opportunities.

The end result of this policy was a glut on world markets of various commodities, since poor countries were being given loans not to develope industries, but rather to produce cheaper commodities for export. (This reminds one of British colonialism in India, whereby the British was force India to export raw textiles, manufacture finished products in England, and then export the resulting value added goods back to India, which wiped out the Indian textile industry, and kept Britain supplied with cheap textiles for her industries). This glut of commodities still exists today (as seen in such things as low coffee prices, as just one example of so many others). To make matters worse poorer nations needed to buy oil at sky high prices, and they also needed to make loan payments for those loans they were encouraged to take out before, and they needed to borrow at sky high interest rates to make ends meet. The end result was the so called Third World Debt catastrophe.

Now in order to get those loans it then became neccesary for poor countries to get saved by adopting religion, in this case the religion of the unbridled market place. This meant no more of those mixed economies, massive lay offs at state industries, to make them lean and mean and thus ready to be privatized, these privatizations typically then taking place at fire sale prices, since those poor countries really had to get together the money to at least make their interest payments, and when someone knows you are hard up, they usually figure you can take a lower price.

Around the same time all this was happening the American government also began to think that it would be a good time to liberalize the capital markets world wide (which means that if you make a billion in Malawi you can take it home and invest in American stocks, rather than facing capital controls that might force you to invest in Malawi instead). The end result of these policies was a surge in the value of the dollar and the stock market, although much of that proved to be in the end a speculative bubble, and when you undermine the base of the economy, and thus your sales opportunities, in favor of the top of the economy, you wind up with what Einstein referred to as 'instability in the economy' and then you have corporations with a lack of profits cooking the books during the 90s. (But that is another story).

The end result of the elimination of capital controls was that if some poor country wanted to get insolent, and complain about those low commodity prices, and those sky high loan payments, well then the country could be totally destroyed by capital flight, but if they behaved they might be able to get another loan, provided that a long list of conditions were met beforehand. This carrot and stick approach was used to train and discipline countries during the early 80s. One might remember how capital flight was used to plunge the French economy into ruins and then pundits blamed it on mismanagement by socialists, and similar things were done to countries in South East Asia. This is why today you find 'the Labor Party' (as its called) or the 'Social Democrats' all hawking the same pension cutting, ending welfare as we know it policies they are now advocating, since to do otherwise would be to get hit with that stick, while to behave meant you might get a carrot in the form of an investment (a fine example of that invisible hand at work again). The net effect was to push politics to the right, and this also explains why poor countries might complain, but they always at least make their interest payments on time, even if they have to cut the government spending on baby health or something else to do it (the invisible hand will take care of that baby, although not in that baby's lifetime), and poor countries will also have to just accept those low commodity prices, since you just have to take what you can get, since its better than nothing at all.

The point of this, more of my typical sarcasm and irony, is first to make sure that people are informed, and know why things are they way they are, and also to expose the new religion as a fraud (the diety here being some invisible hand of some market), and finally to get people thinking about famines and how to deal with such disasters, or, even worse, how that invisible hand cannot, and never will deal with such things (having had ample warning for the last year after all). There is also a justice question to be considered here (just what causes poverty in the first place...has anyone heard of colonialism? You often hear that most of the wealth and almost all the good land is held in poor countries by just a couple of per cent of the population. Have you ever wondered what color their skin is (for example I watched video footage of the anti-Chavez rallies by so called 'average Venezuelans' and what stunned me was that sea of white faces, not to mention the SUVs and the jewelry and nice clothes. These people, also causing a problem in Southern African, you might recall the big stink in Zimbabwe, are some of the lasting toxic after effects of centuries of unjust colonialism and past invasions and land grabs, and what you see there is just a cruder manifestation of what is now called 'neo-liberalism' (just another way to give a bunch of brown and black people of the world a helping hand out of their primitive backwardness and their inexplicable poverty).

And I am not going to end this homily with a list of to dos, but rather I am just going to focus my attention on seeing to it that people are enlightened so that no matter what action they might decide to take, at least it will be an enlightened, informed action (and having another one of those Rock Concerts does not qualify as an informed action, and it certainly never helped solve any problem to mystify its causes and its processes which would only serve to mystify the possible real solutions).