Sunday, May 22, 2011

Treading Lightly in the Simanjiro Plains of Tanzania


Treading Lightly in the Simanjiro Plains of Tanzania

Jessica Bruder
Paolo, a Masai guide, scans the woodlands below for wildlife.  Below Thousands of zebras cross the Simanjiro Plains during the wet season.
WE’D been hiking for a half-hour when Mark Thornton raised his hand and drew us to a halt. Tracing a circle in the air with his index finger, he whispered, “They’re all around us.”
Jessica Bruder
Thousands of zebras cross the Simanjiro Plains during the wet season.
Jessica Bruder
A Masai guide leads the author's group, organized by Mark Thornton Safaris, which specializes in trekking safaris in Tanzania.
Jessica Bruder
Each day ends by a campfire.
Jessica Bruder
Displaying a chameleon.
About 50 yards off, in every possible direction, were zebras. Dozens of them. The night before, sitting by our campfire, we’d heard distant hoof beats rumbling across the savanna. Now we had found the source. They milled around stubby acacia trees, black tails swishing against striped hindquarters, noses down in the grass.
Our group grew silent. Mr. Thornton waved us together, nine khaki-clad travelers and a local Masai guide in a traditional red-checkered shuka cloak. The closer we stood to one another, he explained, the less threatening we’d appear. We fell into a tight line behind him and paced ahead slowly toward the herd.
The zebras stopped grazing to stare at us. Farther off, a few wildebeests lifted their horned, bearded heads to glance in our direction.
“They want to keep an eye on you and see what you are,” Mr. Thornton explained in a voice that was low but that betrayed his excitement. “This is brilliant. In a lot of places, their comfort zone is 10 times this size.”
We were visiting the Simanjiro Plains in Tanzania — a wide-open stretch of grasslands spanning roughly 100,000 acres, 80 miles southwest of Mount Kilimanjaro. Animals don’t encounter many travelers here. That’s exactly why we had come.
For two days, we’d been exploring the plains on foot, spending our nights at undeveloped campsites in temporarily pitched canvas tents. We were excited to be outside the country’s protected parks and game reserves, where well-beaten tracks lure throngs of safarigoers who crisscross the landscape in crowded Land Rovers, dangling out the windows with binoculars, bent on seeing everything at once.
The Simanjiro, by comparison, is governed by local villages, and our access had been granted through a partnership with the resident Masai, who helped guide our walks and received a portion of the trip’s proceeds.
The best part? This area has no safari lodges, no souvenir shops selling postcards or pith helmets, no tourist infrastructure of any kind. The raw thrill of discovery hasn’t been tempered with kitsch, and there’s no rush to consume nature as if in a zoo.
When our trip began last year in March, we gathered at a coffee plantation lodge on the outskirts of Arusha, a city near the northern border with Kenya, for a briefing from Mr. Thornton, a 38-year-old New York native who lives in Cape Town and has been guiding Tanzania excursions for more than a decade. His company, Mark Thornton Safaris (, was twice named National Geographic Adventure’s top African outfitter.
“The trip isn’t just about seeing the animals,” he told us at the outset. “It’s about seeing how things fit together.” And the Simanjiro Plains offer a fascinating example of coexistence between humans and wildlife. The area is home to several villages of Masai tribesmen, who have been grazing their cattle on these lush grasses for centuries. Apart from occasional encounters with lions — several Masai we met during our five days in the bush showed us the deep scars they’ve earned protecting their cows — they coexist peacefully with wildlife migrating in and out of the region.
The region also supports herds of migratory zebra and wildebeest. In July, during the dry season, these animals depart for Tarangire National Park to the west, where they congregate along the Tarangire River. When the rains return in November, they come back to bear their young and graze on the nutrient-rich grasses that grow in the volcanic soil of the Simanjiro.
For conservationists, this annual migration creates a challenge. For the wildlife, the plains are essential, but they aren’t protected like the national parks, which are off-limits to human settlement. The Masai need a place to live, too, and the plains are home to several villages. But the limited protections here also mean the Simanjiro are under constant threat from big-city trespassers, who set up unregulated farms on the grasslands, clogging migration routes and choking off Masai pastures. Meanwhile, poachers prowl the plains for bushmeat, skins and horns.
Since 2004, Mr. Thornton and nine other safari outfitters have worked with Masai villages to formalize their boundaries and enact bylaws forbidding abuse of the land by outsiders. The result is the Simanjiro Conservation Easement, a 58,000-acre tract of grasslands set aside by local village councils, for grazing cattle and migrating wildlife.
Together, the tour operators make an annual payment of 5 million Tanzanian shillings — the equivalent of about $3,378 — to each of two Masai villages, Terrat and Sukuro, used to enforce village boundaries. In recent years, the Masai were able to use that money to sue farmers who had usurped part of their lands. The Masai won. Mr. Thornton does additional fund-raising for the easement on his own, and recently raised more than $5,000 — “a little stimulus package,” he called it — from his clients. (Our trip cost roughly $650 per person per day including food, accommodations, local transportation, guides and land access fees; trips are usually 10 days.)
The nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society also works with this coalition of tour operators and villages, spending roughly $26,500 annually to finance grassroots initiatives around the easement including Masai anti-poaching scouts. It’s not uncommon now to see them patrolling the plains, riding bicycles in their long checkered robes, toting high-powered binoculars and cellphones.
Protecting the plains, however, remains a struggle. Even as short-term visitors, we saw damage. On our second day in the bush, we came across the site of a recent kill. Buzzards scattered as we approached the spiral-horned head of an eland, the largest species of African antelope. The body, which probably once weighed close to a ton, was gone. A putrid smell hung in the air. Reaching down, Mr. Thornton remarked that the creature’s nose was still soft, meaning it had been dead for less than a day. The dirt was stained with blood. One of our Masai guides pointed out a set of tire tracks: poachers had been here. We quickly moved on.
Later, we passed a plot of furrowed farmland that seemed to be abandoned. The plains had been churned up, though nothing appeared to be growing. The only other sign of agriculture was a ragged scarecrow on a pole. It was unclear what had led to the abandonment of this particular farm, though the possibilities included droughts or local villages enforcing prohibitions on agriculture. “In a few years, that will turn back into savanna,” Mr. Thornton said.
Sights like these aren’t the stuff of glossy tourism brochures. But they’re a very real part of what’s happening on the Simanjiro Plains where, thankfully, there is still plenty of unspoiled nature to enjoy. During our long hours on foot, we walked past placid giraffes, craning their long necks to nibble acacia leaves. Olive baboons stopped foraging to ogle us as we trekked up a hill.
There were quieter moments, too — the kind you’d never experience speeding past in a Land Rover. One evening, we were out hiking when Mr. Thornton heard something. “Close your eyes. Put your hands like this and listen,” he said, cupping his fingers around his ears.
The dusk filled with a noises that sounded like marbles clinking together in a glass. There was also a lower, discordant twang, something that sounded like a squeaky shoe. Frogs, he explained.
One of my fellow travelers, Heidi Nelson, 41, from Huntley, Ill., told me that experiences like these are part of the allure of a walking safari.
“I liked that it’s camping with a small group, going to places where you’re not with 30 people,” she said. “I like the fact that, if we see baboons, we can sit and watch the baboons. We don’t need to hurry to the next environment. I like the intimacy of it.”
AFTER five days in the remote bush, including an epic struggle to free a pair of Land Rovers from thick, slurping mud on our way out, we made the drive into Tarangire National Park. What struck me immediately wasn’t the park’s huge concentrations of easily spotted elephants, giraffes and impala. It was the fact that there were so many other tourists around. The parking lot was packed with other four-by-fours, both single and double-decker. Some of the vehicles were idling, engines grumbling, emitting exhaust.
On the way to our campsite, we encountered a herd of about 30 elephants lumbering across the road. We stopped to watch them pass. One of the babies was alarmed; it raised a tiny, wrinkled trunk and fanned its ears out wide. An older female urged it back into the herd. “Whoa, there. Thank you, lady,” Mr. Thornton murmured. We waited.
Then a double-decker Land Rover roared up. When the elephants didn’t shuffle off quickly enough for the driver’s taste, he grew irritated and revved his engine at them. They hustled out of the way and he sped off. When we reached our camp, there was plenty of grumbling about the impatient guide, about “rude tourists.”
We didn’t feel that we fit with the swarms of visitors in this park. It’s not just that we were grungier — flecked with mud and covered in a fine coat of road dust. Maybe, as Mr. Thornton joked, we’d turned into “bush snobs.”
We had been spoiled by savoring wide-open spaces at a slow pace. Most of us had plenty of hurrying to do back home. In Africa, we wanted time to absorb, time to walk, time to see and think.
For Mr. Thornton, leading these trips is the antithesis of making a rushed charge through the wilderness.
“The focus is keeping it small, in the spirit of the old safaris,” he said. “You can drive around the Serengeti for two weeks and probably see 120 different lions. But it’s that one experience where you see a lion at 200 meters looking at you through the bush and it runs away.” He paused. “That’s the one you remember. You’re going a little deeper.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roy Bennett on Zimbabwe's government: An uneasy alliance | The Economist

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on the March, but Cautiously

May 19, 2011
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) officially registered Wednesday for the formation of a new political wing, paving the way for the establishment of the Freedom and Justice Party. With parliamentary elections scheduled in September, Freedom and Justice is expected to do well at the first polls of the post-Mubarak era. Just how well is the main question on the minds of the country’s ruling military council, which would prefer to hand off the day-to-day responsibilities of governing Egypt, while holding onto real power behind the scenes.

Leading MB official Saad al-Katatny, one of the founders of Freedom and Justice, said he hopes for the party to officially begin its activities June 17, and to begin selecting its executive authority and top leaders one month later. Members of Egypt’s Political Parties Affairs Committee will convene Sunday to discuss the application and will announce their decision the next day. They are expected to approve the request. Three and a half months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s leading Islamist group is on the verge of forming an official political party for the first time in its history.

Following Mubarak’s ouster, MB wasted little time in seizing what it saw as the group’s historical moment to enter Egypt’s political mainstream. They announced plans to form a political party on Feb. 14. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over administration of the country following the deposal of Mubarak, did nothing to hinder this development, despite the military’s deep antipathy toward Islamist groups. Political instability was (and is) rampant in the country, and the military sought to find a balance that would allow it to maintain control while appearing amenable to the people’s demands, and bring life back to normal. Opening up political space to Islamist groups, including at least two emerging Salafist parties, and announcing plans for fairly rapid elections, was seen by the military as the most effective way to achieve this balance.

It bears repeating that what happened in Egypt in January and Februarydid not constitute a revolution. There was no regime change; there was regime preservation, through a carefully orchestrated military coup that used the 19 days of popular demonstrations against Mubarak as a smokescreen for achieving its objective. Though a system of one-party rule existed from the aftermath of the 1967 War until Feb. 11 of this year, true power in Egypt since 1952 has been with the military and that did not change with the ouster of Mubarak. What changed was that for the first time since the 1960s, Egypt’s military found itself not just ruling, but actually governing, despite the existence of an interim government (which the SCAF itself appointed).

The SCAF wants to get back to ruling and give up the job of governing, but it knows that there has been a sea change in Egypt’s political environment that prevents a return to the way things were done under Mubarak. The days of single-party rule are over. If the military wants stability, it is going to have to accept a true multiparty political system, one that allows for a broad spectrum of participation from all corners of Egyptian society. The generals can maintain control of the regime, but the day-to-day affairs of governance will fall under the control of coalition governments that could never have existed in the old Egypt.

This opens the door for MB to gain more political power than it has ever held and explains why its leaders were so quick to announce their plans for the formation of Freedom and Justice in February. But the group has tempered eagerness with caution. MB is aware of its reputation in the eyes of the SCAF (and the outside world, for that matter) and is playing a shrewd game to dispel its image as an extremist Islamist group. It has been publicly supportive of the SCAF on a number of occasions, and has marketed Freedom and Justice as a non-Islamist party — it includes women and one of its founders is a Copt — based on Islamic principles. MB has also insisted that the new party will have no actual ties to the Brotherhood itself (though this is clearly not the case), while promising that it will not field a presidential candidate in polls due to take place six weeks following the parliamentary elections. In addition, MB has pledged to run for no more than 49 percent of the available parliamentary seats. This is designed to reassure the SCAF that it does not immediately seek absolute political power.

Focusing on whether the SCAF is sincere in its publicly stated desire to transform Egypt into a democracy misses the more important point, which is that the military regime feels it has no choice but to move toward a multiparty political system. The alternatives — military dictatorship and single-party rule — are unfeasible. But there are red lines attached to the push toward political pluralism, and MB is aware of these. Trying to take too much, too quickly, will only incite a military crackdown on the political opening the armed forces have engineered in the last three months. As for the SCAF, it is willing to give Freedom and Justice a chance in the new Egypt, so long as the underlying reality of power remains the same.

View more Geopolitical Diaries » / Comment / Analysis - Africa: Ripe for reappraisal / Comment / Analysis - Africa: Ripe for reappraisal

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lunch With Paul Kagame

Lunch with the FT: Paul Kagame

By William Wallis
Published: May 13 2011 17:27 | Last updated: May 13 2011 17:27
Paul KagamePaul Kagame, 53, has been president of Rwanda for the past decade and vice-president – and de facto leader – for seven years before that. But for all the power and years of command he appears as lean and austere as he was as the 36-year-old guerrilla commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel army that fought an end to the 20th century’s swiftest act of mass murder – the killing between April and July 1994 of some 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathisers.
In the years since, we have met a number of times but this is our first lunch: the president is visiting London and suggests meeting at the Wyndham Grand in Chelsea Harbour, an expensive but unremarkable hotel not known for its restaurant. Our meal is to be prepared by a chef travelling with the presidential party. Kagame’s aides assure me in advance that this is not out of fear of being poisoned. Rather, they explain, it is for organisational reasons – feeding the entourage and past experience with the vagaries of hotel catering – and I half-believe them. Kagame’s administration, which has approached development with the same single-mindedness as it approached guerrilla warfare, is nothing if not well-organised.
The country that Kagame took over had collapsed, its institutions and people abandoned or destroyed during the genocide. In the ensuing years his government has overseen the return of millions of Rwandans displaced by conflict; hundreds of thousands of genocide crimes have been tried by village committees (see box below).
And, with the help of international aid, on which the government still depends for nearly 50 per cent of its budget, Rwanda has seen some of the highest growth rates in Africa. Yet no African leader divides opinion as sharply as Kagame does or inspires such contrasting caricatures: on the one hand, the visionary statesman, forging prosperity out of ruin and courageously tackling continental taboos; on the other, the blood-stained tyrant. He is accused of war crimes and human rights abuses at least as often as he is celebrated with honorary doctorates and global leadership awards.
The polemics are fuelled by Kagame’s mixed record. Unlike many of his African peers, he has relentlessly pursued results in his bid to transform an inward-looking mountain nation into a regional centre for services, agro-processing, tourism and transport. But he has also been given extraordinary licence to repress dissent, and the prosperity of elites in Kigali derives at least partly from the plunder of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo during Rwanda’s serial invasions of its neighbour.
According to United Nations reports, tens of thousands of Rwandans and Congolese died at the hands of Kagame’s army as he established authority and secured his country’s borders in the face of continuing threats to surviving Tutsis. Political opponents and journalists still end up in exile, jail or, in some cases, six foot under.
Yet Kagame can count among his international supporters the likes of Tony Blair, Rick Warren, the evangelical US pastor, and Howard Schultz of Starbucks among other influential figures in the west. Members of his fan club tend to overlook the more troubling aspects of his rule or support the notion that he has done what was necessary to restore security and lay the foundations for development.
In the anonymous, faintly ascetic meeting room at the Wyndham Grand, where we are about to be served carrot and tomato soup, Kagame says, “I have no regrets about being who I am, and being what I am in my country for my people. No regrets at all.” The round table where we are to eat, bedecked with white cloth and silver cutlery, is something of an oasis in a desert of empty carpet.
The wider global setting is more compelling: Kagame, though relaxed, is not a man for small talk and our conversation moves quickly to the conflict in Ivory Coast, revolutions sweeping the Arab world and the ramifications of both for sub-Saharan Africa. “These are not problems that just emerged yesterday: they are problems which people were not paying attention to because it suited their own interests not to,” he says of the corruption, social injustice and repression that fuelled the Arab uprisings.
Such a statement might raise an eyebrow among his detractors, coming as it does from a head of state who has yet to allow a strong opponent to rival him, and who in 2001 locked up his predecessor Pasteur Bizimungu, when he formed an opposition party. But the attention Kagame has focused on developing Rwanda’s essentially peasant economy has fostered the shoots of a remarkable recovery for anyone bothered to observe it closely. Few of Kagame’s detractors do, something he finds infuriating.
Fiercely defensive of the moral high ground, he is not shy of playing on western guilt at having failed Rwanda in its hour of need. “I don’t think anybody out there in the media, UN, human rights organisations, has any moral right whatsoever to level any accusations against me or against Rwanda. Because, when it came to the problems facing Rwanda, and the Congo, they were all useless,” he says, quietly emptying his soup bowl.
Weary of the problems associated with being a recipient of international aid – from the patronising, bullying tactics of donor nations to the often fickle nature of their policies in Africa – Kagame has developed an acute sensitivity to western mendacity and double standards. He also has a strong sense of irony. So it is with a wry laugh that he suggests that the historic focus of western governments on stability over freedom and good governance in the Arab world has had its comeuppance. “They have to face the reality now I think. They just can’t ignore it ... ”
If there is a broader lesson from the Arab Spring for countries south of the Sahara, he continues, it is in what happens to those in office who do not pay attention to the interests of their people. “You can be up there, talked about, appreciated all over the world, with people singing a lot of songs about you. But if you don’t measure up and you are not really connected with your people ... it will explode in your face, no question about it.”
Next on the menu chosen for us by his chef is steak, with beans, green peppers, rice and potatoes. It looks fortifying, so I introduce an awkward comparison. Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni minority distrustful of a majority Shia population now in open revolt, could, I suggest, be compared to Rwanda, with its administration dominated by a minority – ethnic Tutsis, who make up around 14 per cent of the population and were victims of the 1994 genocide. Not unlike Bahrain’s ruling elite, Rwanda’s fears real democracy would lead to majority rule and that this would invite chaos given the history of extremism among majority Hutus.
Kagame reacts sharply to the comparison. For one, he is not a monarch, he says, like King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. But, I murmur, you were elected by a remarkable 93 per cent of votes only last year, facing no real opposition.
“In Rwanda there is a constitution. There are term limits; there is a parliament, there are elections. Somebody who makes that comparison, I will just say is ignorant,” he insists, defending the near unanimous result of last year’s polls as a vote for stability in the context of the country’s peculiarly bloody history.
Yet international concern is, if anything, mounting over whether the peace and economic growth Kagame has established is sustainable alongside a political system that remains rigidly controlled.
He continues with a tactic often deployed by African heads of state but which in this instance seems somewhat disingenuous: to harp on the exaggerated expectations made of developing nations by the west and the west’s failure often to meet the same exacting standards. “Why isn’t the majority in the developed world interpreted on the basis of race or colour or tribes? Why? You want to tell me that, in the United States, Barack Obama comes from which majority?” he asks.
We reach a point of agreement when we decide that had Rwanda been an oil-rich state like Libya it is unlikely that UN peacekeepers would have backed off when mass murder started as they did in 1994. We also agree that in the case of Ivory Coast, the elections that sparked this year’s conflict were premature, symptomatic of the pressure applied on African nations to import political systems that are not always suited to local circumstance.
“Elections must be held. But when? You don’t carry out elections anyhow, or under any conditions,” he says, pointing to the fact that Ivory Coast was divided when the vote took place under UN supervision in November, with rebels in control of the north, and a government army in the south. “It’s as if elections or political processes were things worked out in a factory ... They can’t be made in the UK; they can’t be made in America. No. If you force it, you end up with a problem.”
The waiters remove our empty plates, and replace them with bowls of fruit salad with oranges, pineapples and blackberries. We find another point of agreement: had we been almost anywhere in Africa, the fruit would have tasted a great deal sweeter. “Pineapples are very bland here,” says Kagame. “And the bananas are different.”
As coffee is served, I ask Kagame a question that intrigues me. He has skilfully courted the evangelical Christian community in the US, a factor that I am told helped swing the Bush administration to his side, after a frosty start. But is he himself a believer? “Yes and no,” he says. “I encourage believers to believe.”
The complicity of members of the Catholic church in the Rwandan genocide partly inform this doubt. There were priests among the killers. “I’ve seen religions make blunders. Let’s look at what the Catholics did in Rwanda, which still disturbs me,” he says. “You see the Catholics apologising for child abuse by priests and bishops, and the Pope has gone out of the way to apologise to the Americans. Then he goes to Australia and does the same. But they will never apologise for their role in the Rwandan genocide.”
For all the blame he heaps on the outside world for turmoil past, he tailors much of his rhetoric these days to chime with the times. He is acutely conscious, for example, that Africa will only catch up if Africans themselves live up to the task. He singles out the leaderships in Ethiopia, Gabon and Burkina Faso as like-minded. “People will patronise us but at the end of the day we have to remember it’s our problem,” he says. “Africa should not just wait to be exploited or influenced. No. We should be part of the conversation. We should raise ourselves to a level where there are certain terms we dictate in the conversation because we have a lot to offer.”
It is partly Rwanda’s meagre resources, he continues, that has made it so imperative that it behaves differently, that it roots out petty corruption and improves the business climate if it is to compete. And it has, becoming one of the world’s fastest reformers, rising to 66th out of 178 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings. “We are landlocked, a very small country, in the middle somewhere. Some of our neighbours, they are richer than us, and they tend to attract people more than we do. So we have to strategically create uniqueness about us.”
Unique too, is the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, which grew out of the rebel movement he led to power from exile in neighbouring Uganda. It is one of the best endowed political movements in the world. Funds it controls own large stakes in key sectors of the Rwandan economy, including telecoms, banking, real estate and energy, as well as investments abroad that were launched when his movement was still in the bush. Kagame puts the RPF’s wealth at several hundred million dollars. “We don’t go out begging. For example, we didn’t have any money from Gaddafi for our elections ... And the reason is really we want to maintain our independence all the time in everything we do.”
That is one of the paradoxes about Rwanda. The country has depended on foreign donors to rebuild in the wake of 1994. Yet it is focused, as much as any aid-dependent African country, on becoming self-reliant. And its leader, despite the debt he owes to many foreign allies, never appears anything but independent-minded. “We’ve dealt with our problems very unconventionally and because we’ve had to do that,” he says – adding that this has often infuriated foreign partners who would like everything done their way – “it’s a struggle all the time.”
William Wallis is the FT’s Africa editor
Wyndham Grand
Chelsea Harbour, London SW10
Menu prepared by Paul Kagame’s chef
Tomato and carrot soup x 2
Steak x 2
Mixed vegetables
Sparkling water
Bread rolls
Total (including service) £83
Jason Stearns on transitional justice in Rwanda
‘Killers now live side-by-side with families of their victims’
Rwanda has long stood out as an extreme case in the fractious debate enveloping post-conflict justice. What do you do in a country with 800,000 victims and probably around 200,000 culprits?
President Paul Kagame has approached this challenge with hard-nosed pragmatism. The new regime obviously couldn’t prosecute all the killers, nor could they let them go. The court system was in a shambles; most lawyers and judges were dead, in exile or tainted by the old regime. For years the new government run by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) arrested many but prosecuted few. By 1999, 120,000 people were jailed under hellish conditions. It was estimated that the courts would take more than a century to clear the backlog.
In 2001 the government launched a new approach, setting up 11,000 courts around the country, drawing on a traditional form of justice called gacaca. This process is now coming to an end. More than 400,000 people – more than 10 per cent of the country’s adult Hutu population – have stood trial. Most of those convicted have been given reduced sentences or been sent home, having served time in pre-trial detention.
This solution, even according to Kagame, is far from perfect. Killers now live side-by-side with families of their victims, and there are stories of villagers abusing the gacaca system to settle scores. This is the post-genocide landscape in Rwanda, a cobbled-together compromise, a fractured society held together by tight government control. But there is a far more troubling problem with this approach to justice: It has been almost entirely one-sided. The gacaca courts, the United Nations tribunal and Rwandan national courts have not tried any crimes committed by the RPF government. The government has insisted the few crimes committed by the RPF have been tried in military courts. In any case, they argue, any crimes were an utterly different nature and order of magnitude.
This is not a matter of moral equivalence – the government was not guilty of atrocities on the same scale as its predecessor. But there is more evidence to suggest that RPF abuses were not isolated acts of revenge. A UN report into RPF killings in 1994 has resurfaced, suggesting there could have been as many as 40,000 killings by the new government in that year alone. Only 32 RPF soldiers – two of them officers – have been prosecuted for 1994 crimes.
Jason Stearns is author of ‘Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: the Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa’ (PublicAffairs)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

South Africa's Rocket Man Elon Musk Names A New CFO

SpaceX Names Bret Johnsen as Chief Financial Officer 
Former Broadcom Executive Joins Company at a Time of Incredible Growth  

Hawthorne, CA – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has named Bret Johnsen as Chief Financial Officer, bringing 20 years of financial leadership experience in high-profile, publicly traded companies to SpaceX as it undergoes rapid growth on the back of tremendous technological and market success.

Johnsen's appointment follows the company’s fourth straight year of profitability (2007-2010).  The total value of SpaceX NASA and commercial contracts recently topped $3 billion for over 40 launches. The company has also grown to more than 1,300 employees.
“Bret has an exceptional talent for financial management in high-growth, publicly held technology companies,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and CTO.  “Looking at his career, he is clearly someone that always sought out tough challenges and produced impressive results.  His experience will be invaluable to SpaceX as we implement the financial standards and processes needed to allow for the possibility of becoming a public company.”

“I am thrilled to be part of a team that is transforming the space industry,” said Johnsen. “It is exciting to join such a pioneering company as it continues to grow and increase market share.  My job at SpaceX will be to ensure financial discipline, while supporting the formula that makes SpaceX great.”

Johnsen spent nearly a decade at Broadcom Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors for wired and wireless communications.  He played a key role in helping transform Broadcom into a leading Fortune 500 technology company. There he developed processes that drove operating efficiencies, saving Broadcom millions of dollars annually.  Starting out as Controller for a number of business groups within Broadcom, he quickly rose up the ranks.  He ultimately was named Vice President, Corporate Controller and Principal Accounting Officer, overseeing an 80-member accounting organization in nine countries for the cutting-edge technology company. 

After leaving Broadcom, he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Mindspeed Technologies.  Last year, he was named “CFO of the Year” by the Orange County Business Journal for bringing the chip maker through the recession by cutting costs, reworking debt, selling stock and raising cash through patent sales.  “The moves helped reposition Mindspeed for profitability and brought renewed attention from Wall Street,” the Journal said.

Johnsen holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Southern California and a Master of Science in Finance from San Diego State University.  He is a certified public accountant in the State of California

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Wal-Mart deal could open doors for other retail takeovers – economist

Wal-Mart deal could open doors for other retail takeovers – economist

Investors Are Bullish On Nigeria

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bullish On Africa!


By Richard (Rick) Mills
Ahead of the herd

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information 
Little was known about Africa’s interior so early map makers would often leave this region blank. Today’s investors may be the equivalent of yesterdays mapmakers.
Africa is a continent of opportunity.
According to The Economist, between 2000 and 2010, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies where in Sub-Saharan Africa. The only BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) country to make the top ten was China which came in second behind Angola – the fastest growing country in the world.
Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda made up the rest of the African countries within the top ten and all had annual growth rates of around 8% or more.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Africa will own seven out of the top ten places for fastest growing economies between now and 2015. The World Bank raised its forecast for economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa to 5.3% for 2011 - the highest forecast rate of growth outside Asia.
Africans, on a per capita basis, are richer than Indians and a full dozen African states have higher gross national income per capita than China.
A lot of this growth is driven by a blossoming domestic market - the largest domestic market outside India and China. Much of the funding for Africa’s private sector comes from domestic banks and investors - their returns on investment are among the highest in the world. In the last four years private consumption of goods and services has accounted for two thirds of Africa's GDP growth. In Africa's 10 largest economies the service sector makes up 40 percent of GDP – as a comparison India's is at 53 percent.
Today Africa has 14% of the world’s population and by 2050 one in every four people on the planet will be African - by 2027 Africa will have more people than does China or India. Development expert Vijay Majahan, author of Africa Rising, said the rapidly emerging African middle class could today number almost 300 million people - that’s out of a total population of one billion.
Many African stock markets performed very well last year - eight out of the eleven main Sub-Saharan African markets closed the year in positive territory. Leading the way was the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) with a 34.16% gain.
Some of the factors contributing to the high growth rates:
  • China’s demand for raw materials  
  • Higher commodity prices
  • Big inflows of foreign direct investment
  • Foreign aid and debt relief
  • Urbanization - rising incomes - growth in domestic demand
 “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago.” The World Bank report - Africa’s Future and the World Bank’s Role in it
Africa is incredibly resource rich, natural resource extraction and the necessary infrastructure investment is driving the development of its growing industrial and service sectors. Some of the new prosperity results from better economic policies but the ongoing explosion in commodity prices drives investment in exploration, development and mining which leads to the building of bridges, roads and power lines. Infrastructure build out is ultimately responsible for the boom in prosperity. This is because much of the same infrastructure needed for mining is also the same infrastructure essential for growth in:
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Services
  • Trade
The latest African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa was attended by 6,000 delegates.
A number of economies are increasingly becoming more important in terms of resource extraction:
There are African countries with a well founded, and much publicized, reputation for corruption and poor governance – to put it bluntly, some of Africa’s economies are too poorly run for there to be any hope of secure investment opportunities. But, in much of Africa, there has been a sea change underway for sometime - a substantial chunk of the continent has experienced a stealthy, economic renaissance because of unprecedented, long term, political stability.
Steven Radelet, author of Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way, says five fundamental changes are at work:
  • More democratic and accountable governments
  • More sensible economic policies
  • The end of the debt crisis and changing relationships with donors
  • The spread of new technologies
  • The emergence of a new generation of policymakers, activists, and business leaders
Africa is the last continent to be developed – ironic considering that research confirms the “Out Of Africa” hypothesis that all modern humans stem from a single group of Homo sapiens who emigrated from Africa 2,000 generations ago.
Over the next generation Africa could very well be where some of the best returns on investment will be made - thanks to the increasing global appetite for natural resources. Many of the countries (Nigeria with its 150 million people comes to mind) in Africa will take their place on the world stage - much as the resource rich nations of Australia, Brazil and Canada have.
Africa has long been neglected by exploration and mining companies - and their investors – but resource extraction will constitute the most important economic opportunity in Africa’s history over the coming decades.
Here is the opportunity – find the countries that match your risk acceptance level, find suitable investments within these countries and watch the others that presently do not meet your guidelines. Sooner, rather than later, after seeing their neighbors prosper, they will come to see the light and change their ways opening up the country for investment and meeting your risk levels.
Ahead of the herd investments in Africa’s resource sector could be represented in an investor’s portfolio, country by country, for years to come.
Are Africa’s resource rich countries on your investment radar screen?
If not, maybe they should be.
Richard (Rick) Mills

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Friday, May 6, 2011

The New Geopolitics of Food - By Lester R. Brown | Foreign Policy

The New Geopolitics of Food - By Lester R. Brown | Foreign Policy

The New Geopolitics of Food

From the Middle East to Madagascar, high prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. Welcome to the 21st-century food wars.


In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family's dinner table.
Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we've seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet's poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute -- and it has -- to revolutions and upheaval.
Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year's harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile -- and a whole lot more contentious -- than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.
Until recently, sudden price surges just didn't matter as much, as they were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe. But now both the causes and consequences are ominously different.

How Food Explains the World
By Joshua E. Keating

Street Eats

An FP Slide Show
In many ways, this is a resumption of the 2007-2008 food crisis, which subsided not because the world somehow came together to solve its grain crunch once and for all, but because the Great Recession tempered growth in demand even as favorable weather helped farmers produce the largest grain harvest on record. Historically, price spikes tended to be almost exclusively driven by unusual weather -- a monsoon failure in India, a drought in the former Soviet Union, a heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. Such events were always disruptive, but thankfully infrequent. Unfortunately, today's price hikes are driven by trends that are both elevating demand and making it more difficult to increase production: among them, a rapidly expanding population, crop-withering temperature increases, and irrigation wells running dry. Each night, there are 219,000 additional people to feed at the global dinner table.
More alarming still, the world is losing its ability to soften the effect of shortages. In response to previous price surges, the United States, the world's largest grain producer, was effectively able to steer the world away from potential catastrophe. From the mid-20th century until 1995, the United States had either grain surpluses or idle cropland that could be planted to rescue countries in trouble. When the Indian monsoon failed in 1965, for example, President Lyndon Johnson's administration shipped one-fifth of the U.S. wheat crop to India, successfully staving off famine. We can't do that anymore; the safety cushion is gone.
That's why the food crisis of 2011 is for real, and why it may bring with it yet more bread riots cum political revolutions. What if the upheavals that greeted dictators Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a country that imports 90 percent of its grain) are not the end of the story, but the beginning of it? Get ready, farmers and foreign ministers alike, for a new era in which world food scarcity increasingly shapes global politics.
THE DOUBLING OF WORLD grain prices since early 2007 has been driven primarily by two factors: accelerating growth in demand and the increasing difficulty of rapidly expanding production. The result is a world that looks strikingly different from the bountiful global grain economy of the last century. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity? Even at this early stage, we can see at least the broad outlines of the emerging food economy.
On the demand side, farmers now face clear sources of increasing pressure. The first is population growth. Each year the world's farmers must feed 80 million additional people, nearly all of them in developing countries. The world's population has nearly doubled since 1970 and is headed toward 9 billion by midcentury. Some 3 billion people, meanwhile, are also trying to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, and eggs. As more families in China and elsewhere enter the middle class, they expect to eat better. But as global consumption of grain-intensive livestock products climbs, so does the demand for the extra corn and soybeans needed to feed all that livestock. (Grain consumption per person in the United States, for example, is four times that in India, where little grain is converted into animal protein. For now.)
At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it's not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union's goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.
This is not merely a story about the booming demand for food. Everything from falling water tables to eroding soils and the consequences of global warming means that the world's food supply is unlikely to keep up with our collectively growing appetites. Take climate change: The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This relationship was borne out all too dramatically during the 2010 heat wave in Russia, which reduced the country's grain harvest by nearly 40 percent.
While temperatures are rising, water tables are falling as farmers overpump for irrigation. This artificially inflates food production in the short run, creating a food bubble that bursts when aquifers are depleted and pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge. In arid Saudi Arabia, irrigation had surprisingly enabled the country to be self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years; now, wheat production is collapsing because the non-replenishable aquifer the country uses for irrigation is largely depleted. The Saudis soon will be importing all their grain.
Saudi Arabia is only one of some 18 countries with water-based food bubbles. All together, more than half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling. The politically troubled Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where grain production has peaked and begun to decline because of water shortages, even as populations continue to grow. Grain production is already going down in Syria and Iraq and may soon decline in Yemen. But the largest food bubbles are in India and China. In India, where farmers have drilled some 20 million irrigation wells, water tables are falling and the wells are starting to go dry. The World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China's wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping. How will these countries make up for the inevitable shortfalls when the aquifers are depleted?
Even as we are running our wells dry, we are also mismanaging our soils, creating new deserts. Soil erosion as a result of overplowing and land mismanagement is undermining the productivity of one-third of the world's cropland. How severe is it? Look at satellite images showing two huge new dust bowls: one stretching across northern and western China and western Mongolia; the other across central Africa. Wang Tao, a leading Chinese desert scholar, reports that each year some 1,400 square miles of land in northern China turn to desert. In Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests have shrunk by half or more over the last few decades. North Korea and Haiti are also suffering from heavy soil losses; both countries face famine if they lose international food aid. Civilization can survive the loss of its oil reserves, but it cannot survive the loss of its soil reserves.
Beyond the changes in the environment that make it ever harder to meet human demand, there's an important intangible factor to consider: Over the last half-century or so, we have come to take agricultural progress for granted. Decade after decade, advancing technology underpinned steady gains in raising land productivity. Indeed, world grain yield per acre has tripled since 1950. But now that era is coming to an end in some of the more agriculturally advanced countries, where farmers are already using all available technologies to raise yields. In effect, the farmers have caught up with the scientists. After climbing for a century, rice yield per acre in Japan has not risen at all for 16 years. In China, yields may level off soon. Just those two countries alone account for one-third of the world's rice harvest. Meanwhile, wheat yields have plateaued in Britain, France, and Germany -- Western Europe's three largest wheat producers.
IN THIS ERA OF TIGHTENING world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage, and countries are scrambling to secure their own parochial interests at the expense of the common good.
The first signs of trouble came in 2007, when farmers began having difficulty keeping up with the growth in global demand for grain. Grain and soybean prices started to climb, tripling by mid-2008. In response, many exporting countries tried to control the rise of domestic food prices by restricting exports. Among them were Russia and Argentina, two leading wheat exporters. Vietnam, the No. 2 rice exporter, banned exports entirely for several months in early 2008. So did several other smaller exporters of grain.
With exporting countries restricting exports in 2007 and 2008, importing countries panicked. No longer able to rely on the market to supply the grain they needed, several countries took the novel step of trying to negotiate long-term grain-supply agreements with exporting countries. The Philippines, for instance, negotiated a three-year agreement with Vietnam for 1.5 million tons of rice per year. A delegation of Yemenis traveled to Australia with a similar goal in mind, but had no luck. In a seller's market, exporters were reluctant to make long-term commitments.
Fearing they might not be able to buy needed grain from the market, some of the more affluent countries, led by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and China, took the unusual step in 2008 of buying or leasing land in other countries on which to grow grain for themselves. Most of these land acquisitions are in Africa, where some governments lease cropland for less than $1 per acre per year. Among the principal destinations were Ethiopia and Sudan, countries where millions of people are being sustained with food from the U.N. World Food Program. That the governments of these two countries are willing to sell land to foreign interests when their own people are hungry is a sad commentary on their leadership.
By the end of 2009, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2010 World Bank analysis of these "land grabs" reported that a total of nearly 140 million acres were involved -- an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. Such acquisitions also typically involve water rights, meaning that land grabs potentially affect all downstream countries as well. Any water extracted from the upper Nile River basin to irrigate crops in Ethiopia or Sudan, for instance, will now not reach Egypt, upending the delicate water politics of the Nile by adding new countries with which Egypt must negotiate.
The potential for conflict -- and not just over water -- is high. Many of the land deals have been made in secret, and in most cases, the land involved was already in use by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted about nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little backing to bring their cases to court. Reporter John Vidal, writing in Britain's Observer, quotes Nyikaw Ochalla from Ethiopia's Gambella region: "The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands."
Local hostility toward such land grabs is the rule, not the exception. In 2007, as food prices were starting to rise, China signed an agreement with the Philippines to lease 2.5 million acres of land slated for food crops that would be shipped home. Once word leaked, the public outcry -- much of it from Filipino farmers -- forced Manila to suspend the agreement. A similar uproar rocked Madagascar, where a South Korean firm, Daewoo Logistics, had pursued rights to more than 3 million acres of land. Word of the deal helped stoke a political furor that toppled the government and forced cancellation of the agreement. Indeed, few things are more likely to fuel insurgencies than taking land from people. Agricultural equipment is easily sabotaged. If ripe fields of grain are torched, they burn quickly.
Not only are these deals risky, but foreign investors producing food in a country full of hungry people face another political question of how to get the grain out. Will villagers permit trucks laden with grain headed for port cities to proceed when they themselves may be on the verge of starvation? The potential for political instability in countries where villagers have lost their land and their livelihoods is high. Conflicts could easily develop between investor and host countries.
These acquisitions represent a potential investment in agriculture in developing countries of an estimated $50 billion. But it could take many years to realize any substantial production gains. The public infrastructure for modern market-oriented agriculture does not yet exist in most of Africa. In some countries it will take years just to build the roads and ports needed to bring in agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and to export farm products. Beyond that, modern agriculture requires its own infrastructure: machine sheds, grain-drying equipment, silos, fertilizer storage sheds, fuel storage facilities, equipment repair and maintenance services, well-drilling equipment, irrigation pumps, and energy to power the pumps. Overall, development of the land acquired to date appears to be moving very slowly.
So how much will all this expand world food output? We don't know, but the World Bank analysis indicates that only 37 percent of the projects will be devoted to food crops. Most of the land bought up so far will be used to produce biofuels and other industrial crops.
Even if some of these projects do eventually boost land productivity, who will benefit? If virtually all the inputs -- the farm equipment, the fertilizer, the pesticides, the seeds -- are brought in from abroad and if all the output is shipped out of the country, it will contribute little to the host country's economy. At best, locals may find work as farm laborers, but in highly mechanized operations, the jobs will be few. At worst, impoverished countries like Mozambique and Sudan will be left with less land and water with which to feed their already hungry populations. Thus far the land grabs have contributed more to stirring unrest than to expanding food production.
And this rich country-poor country divide could grow even more pronounced -- and soon. This January, a new stage in the scramble among importing countries to secure food began to unfold when South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, announced that it was creating a new public-private entity that will be responsible for acquiring part of this grain. With an initial office in Chicago, the plan is to bypass the large international trading firms by buying grain directly from U.S. farmers. As the Koreans acquire their own grain elevators, they may well sign multiyear delivery contracts with farmers, agreeing to buy specified quantities of wheat, corn, or soybeans at a fixed price.
Other importers will not stand idly by as South Korea tries to tie up a portion of the U.S. grain harvest even before it gets to market. The enterprising Koreans may soon be joined by China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other leading importers. Although South Korea's initial focus is the United States, far and away the world's largest grain exporter, it may later consider brokering deals with Canada, Australia, Argentina, and other major exporters. This is happening just as China may be on the verge of entering the U.S. market as a potentially massive importer of grain. With China's 1.4 billion increasingly affluent consumers starting to compete with U.S. consumers for the U.S. grain harvest, cheap food, seen by many as an American birthright, may be coming to an end.
No one knows where this intensifying competition for food supplies will go, but the world seems to be moving away from the international cooperation that evolved over several decades following World War II to an every-country-for-itself philosophy. Food nationalism may help secure food supplies for individual affluent countries, but it does little to enhance world food security. Indeed, the low-income countries that host land grabs or import grain will likely see their food situation deteriorate.
AFTER THE CARNAGE of two world wars and the economic missteps that led to the Great Depression, countries joined together in 1945 to create the United Nations, finally realizing that in the modern world we cannot live in isolation, tempting though that might be. The International Monetary Fund was created to help manage the monetary system and promote economic stability and progress. Within the U.N. system, specialized agencies from the World Health Organization to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) play major roles in the world today. All this has fostered international cooperation.
But while the FAO collects and analyzes global agricultural data and provides technical assistance, there is no organized effort to ensure the adequacy of world food supplies. Indeed, most international negotiations on agricultural trade until recently focused on access to markets, with the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina persistently pressing Europe and Japan to open their highly protected agricultural markets. But in the first decade of this century, access to supplies has emerged as the overriding issue as the world transitions from an era of food surpluses to a new politics of food scarcity. At the same time, the U.S. food aid program that once worked to fend off famine wherever it threatened has largely been replaced by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), where the United States is the leading donor. The WFP now has food-assistance operations in some 70 countries and an annual budget of $4 billion. There is little international coordination otherwise. French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- the reigning president of the G-20 -- is proposing to deal with rising food prices by curbing speculation in commodity markets. Useful though this may be, it treats the symptoms of growing food insecurity, not the causes, such as population growth and climate change. The world now needs to focus not only on agricultural policy, but on a structure that integrates it with energy, population, and water policies, each of which directly affects food security.
But that is not happening. Instead, as land and water become scarcer, as the Earth's temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. Land grabbing, water grabbing, and buying grain directly from farmers in exporting countries are now integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.
With grain stocks low and climate volatility increasing, the risks are also increasing. We are now so close to the edge that a breakdown in the food system could come at any time. Consider, for example, what would have happened if the 2010 heat wave that was centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago. In round numbers, the 40 percent drop in Russia's hoped-for harvest of roughly 100 million tons cost the world 40 million tons of grain, but a 40 percent drop in the far larger U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons would have cost 160 million tons. The world's carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) would have dropped to just 52 days of consumption. This level would have been not only the lowest on record, but also well below the 62-day carryover that set the stage for the 2007-2008 tripling of world grain prices.
Then what? There would have been chaos in world grain markets. Grain prices would have climbed off the charts. Some grain-exporting countries, trying to hold down domestic food prices, would have restricted or even banned exports, as they did in 2007 and 2008. The TV news would have been dominated not by the hundreds of fires in the Russian countryside, but by footage of food riots in low-income grain-importing countries and reports of governments falling as hunger spread out of control. Oil-exporting countries that import grain would have been trying to barter oil for grain, and low-income grain importers would have lost out. With governments toppling and confidence in the world grain market shattered, the global economy could have started to unravel.
We may not always be so lucky. At issue now is whether the world can go beyond focusing on the symptoms of the deteriorating food situation and instead attack the underlying causes. If we cannot produce higher crop yields with less water and conserve fertile soils, many agricultural areas will cease to be viable. And this goes far beyond farmers. If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices. If we cannot accelerate the shift to smaller families and stabilize the world population sooner rather than later, the ranks of the hungry will almost certainly continue to expand. The time to act is now -- before the food crisis of 2011 becomes the new normal.