Sunday, August 14, 2011

A tale of two droughts

Jim French in the Wichita Eagle (Kansas): ...The extreme drought has taken its toll on this [US] region's agriculture. Much of the rain-fed corn from the southern and western third of the state has been abandoned, baled or chopped for feed. There has been almost no alfalfa production; the winter wheat crop yields in June were well below average. Many ranchers have been early weaning spring calves, as well as culling cows.

And yet in the midst of the most severe drought since the late 19th century, one does not see mass migrations such as those that characterized the 1880s and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Why? Since the Depression there has been long-term government investment in programs that ensure agricultural resiliency through resource conservation and insurance.

Crop insurance helped compensate for the lost income suffered by farmers in June. Moreover, land grant research and extension services have helped spread better farming practices, which have prevented some of the worst consequences of drought. In short, the U.S. agriculture system is prepared to manage extreme situations.

This is not the case in eastern Africa, where another historic drought is taking place. Thousands of Somalis have crossed into refugee camps in Kenya — a country that is also suffering from lack of rainfall. In what the United Nations has officially declared a famine, at least 12 million people are at risk and many are dying each day from hunger.

...In the past two years, the United States has made commitments on the global stage for investments that would help developing nations build resilience to these extremes and improve food security and self-reliance through small-holder agriculture. Such fiscally responsible investments in developing-nation agriculture will create powerful savings in the level of food aid that is needed and will help prevent the mounting national security costs that humanitarian crises create...

Women and children waiting to enter Dadaab camp in Kenya. One of thousands of refugee families who have recently arrived from Somalia fleeing the drought and conflict. Shot by Oxfam East Africa, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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