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Kamala Sarup: The Irish Famine

The Irish Famine


By Kamala Sarup

"Of Irish famine, one million died and another one million migrated to the U.S. In the Philadelphia Pen (beach) area there is a moving statue. Half is that of a boat and half of people in Ireland itself. It depicts poverty and grief. The plaque reads (in the reconciliation fashion) that this is in memory of those who died and suffered and to retell their stories so that generations to come are able to get over the grief lying so deep within. It was unfortunate that Irish people were dying when the rest of the Europe had food in plenty". Peace Media's Advisor Dr. Arul Aram said.

The Irish famine was the result of (1) reliance on the potato as a source of food by the poor, (2) a succession of wet autumns that caused the potato fungus ("blight") to thrive, and (3) British regulations that prohibited keeping exportable wheat, the "cash crop", in Ireland and prohibiting the import of wheat from American surpluses to support the British and Irish landowners.

Although the fungus appeared throughout Europe, the reliance of the Irish poor exclusively on the potato as a staple made it particularly susceptible to famine. The potato, domesticated by southamerican Indians, thrives in all kinds of environments and provides more calories per acre than any other staple. Therefore, it is not surprising that it was and is cultivated throughout the world. The Irish used it as their staple and exported their wheat to other countries to obtain foreign currencies for international trade, a policy dominated by England under which the Irish were governed.

Fungi grow best in damp weather and Ireland had experienced blights earlier in its history, but they were not catastrophic. They were warnings of disaster that the British government did not heed. Otherwise, it could havve taken preventative measures to keep the blight from doing so much damage. However, since most of the Irish land was owned by British (and some Irish) landlords, the policy was to favor them over the peasants.

After the blight occurred, the British government refused to keep the wheat exports in Ireland to feed the people, preferring to keep the money flowing in to the ruling classes. They would not import surplus American wheat because they did not want to incur the expense and run a deficit. Thus, the Irish famine occurred that brought millions to America to seek a better life.

As for hunger in the world today, there is plenty of it. Unfortunately, under capitalism, "the consumer is king", and under autocractic governments the hierarchy takes care of itself first, so people born in more favorable environments with ability and motivation will get a big share of the food while those in less favored environments will go hungry.

Governments temper the inequalities somewhat by redistributing income from the rich to the poor, but these efforts do not close the inequality gap sufficiently to prevent hunger. Therefore, there will be continued famines in the world. Fortunately, the socialist governments of the former U.S.S.R. and the current C.P.R. redistributed the surplus and reduced famines in those countries. Some smaller countries have done the same.

Today, humanitarian organizations, such as the U.N., the U.S., and other NGOs redistribute food, but in insufficient quantities to keep famines from occurring as a result of wars, revolutions and crop failures. It is amazing to some people that in the super-rich U.S., millions of tons of surplus food is kept in storage at great expense as a result of farm support policies while people in the U.S. and around the world go hungry.

The rationale for such policies is that unloading this surplus food onto the market would depress food prices and bankrupt food producers. Such is the thinking driven by market economics.

*************

(Kamala Sarup is editor to Peace Media http://peacejournalism.com/)


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