We are in the midst of a global food crisis the likes of which we have not seen in at least a generation. Such is the official consensus, from the UN to the corporate media. We have heard appeals for increased food aid from humanitarian organizations; we have heard of unrest in over thirty countries as a result of soaring food prices. There are dark mutterings of political destabilization, even revolution. Already one head of government, Haiti’s Prime Minister, has been turfed out of office as people protest the growing gap between their incomes and the price of food. Others are surely feeling uneasy.
Commentators have reached a broad consensus about the causes: rising oil prices, increased ethanol production, more people in India and China adopting Western food consumption habits (such as eating a lot of meat and a lot of processed foods), extreme weather events (such as the Australian drought, arguably caused by global warming). Major producers from Argentina to Vietnam have restricted exports, further tightening supply.
Two other factors are relevant, but somewhat less widely mentioned: the effect of large-scale speculation in commodities markets (see here, and the effects of neoliberal trade “reforms” dictated to poorer countries by international financial institutions (IFIs) like the IMF and World Bank (see here). As speculators have helped drive prices up, poor countries whose food production base was destroyed by trade “liberalization” are left dependent on ever more expensive food imports.
Who are the winners? Predictably, major transnational corporations– and not only in the food/ agribusiness sector (the recent good news for big oil being the most obvious example).