A tale of two droughts
Long-term government investment in conservation and research have saved today's drought-striken agriculture areas in the U.S. from suffering mass migrations like in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, writes Jim French, a farmer from Partridge, Kan. who works on agricultural policy for Oxfam America.
In an editorial in The Kansas City Star, he compares this to the situation in eastern Africa, which is in the midst of another historic drought. He writes, in part:
There have been almost 30 days over 100 degrees in southern Kansas since early June and the forecast for the next week showed little change until a "cool" front might drop the mercury to a breezy 97.
The extreme drought has taken its toll on the 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. Farther south in Oklahoma and Texas where the drought has been even more severe, whole herds have been sold.
And yet in the midst of the most severe drought since the late 19th century, one doesn't see mass migrations 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. Like most farmers who suffered crop losses in June, my crop insurance helped compensate for the lost income. 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, allowing us to avoid the type of mass migrations that destabilize governments and lead to famines elsewhere in the world.
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. Officially declared a famine by the United Nations, at least 12 million people are at risk and many are dying each day from hunger. Because of the drought and failed infrastructure, more than 135,000 people have fled Somalia into neighboring countries, creating new stresses for governments and exacerbating conflicts.
Click here to read French's full editorial.