Tag Archives: food
Small farmers at risk from industrial-scale deals
Food Is Different
Globalization has made more food available worldwide to more people at lower prices. But the current crisis demonstrates the limits of globalization and that the market for food may not be the same as for other products.
by Bruce Stokes
Globalization’s Pluses and Minuses
The world has become more dependent on imported grain in the past 40 years, but failing global grain stocks make it harder to ease shortages and high prices.
Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, warns that the unfolding food crisis could force 100 million people deeper into destitution and set back efforts to reduce world poverty by seven years.
In the midst of this crisis, the immediate humanitarian challenge is to feed the hungry. But the suddenness and breadth of the emergency has raised fundamental questions about the future of agricultural policy that will drive debates in Washington and other world capitals for years to come. The questions being posed about agricultural policies are complex and hard to answer.
Was it a mistake over the past generation to increasingly trust market forces to feed the world? Or are the problems that bedevil farmers today the residue of continued government interference in agricultural markets? Are current food prices a problem or the ultimate solution to future food needs? Does the world food system suffer from too much globalization or not enough?
In the search for answers to these questions, Washington is a Tower of Babel. Partisans of all stripes have seized on the crisis to justify their long-standing ideological positions on agriculture. Free-market proponents support a swift completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which would cut American and European farm subsidies and allow developing countries to increase their food exports to rich countries. “The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse in 2008,” Zoellick said in April. Continue reading
By Alex Lantier
10 June 2008
The current food crisis reflects not only financial events of recent years, but longer-term policies of world imperialism. Instead of allowing for a planned improvement of infrastructure and farming techniques, globalization on a capitalist basis has resulted in a restriction in many parts of the world of farm production. This has been carried out in order to lessen competition and prevent market gluts from harming the profit interests of the major powers.
One major aspect of imperialist policy was to limit farm production in the so-called “First World” to prevent sudden falls in world prices. In the US, this policy took the form of the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program, first passed as part of the 1985 Food Security Act.
The program allows farmers to apply for payments of $50 per acre of land on which they do not plant crops. A nationwide limit of 180,000 square kilometers (about 10 percent of US arable land) was imposed on the program, later decreased to 130,000 square kilometers in 2007.
Though the bill was presented as a means of limiting soil erosion due to overplanting of ecologically vulnerable land, much of the fallow land registered under the project was not, in fact, vulnerable to erosion, but rather chosen by farmers on the basis of the price of the crops that could be grown on it. This was in line with the law’s stated objectives, which were “acreage reduction” and the maintenance of “target prices and price-support loans.”
Similar payments to farmers for farmland kept out of cultivation were adopted on a country-by-country basis, after the 1992 reform of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy. Continue reading
This is the first part of a three-part series of articles found here on the world food crisis.
By Alex Lantier
As the June 3-5 Conference on World Food Security of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began in Rome, FAO Director Jacques Diouf said of the explosion of food prices: “It is touching every country in the world. We have not only seen riots and people dying, but also a government toppled [in Haiti], and we know that many countries…could tilt to one way or the other depending on the discontent or satisfaction of their population.”
With these words, Diouf expressed the growing concern of governments and ruling elites internationally over the potentially revolutionary implications of the upward spiral of prices for basic food staples, which has already sparked a social and economic crisis of global dimensions. In recent months, strikes and demonstrations against rising food prices have occurred in many parts of the world. These initial struggles have exposed the contradiction between the elementary demand of the world’s masses for affordable food and the workings of the capitalist market.
Diouf called for donations of US$30 billion to be invested in world agriculture. Even were this sum to be allocated, it would not begin to address the sources of the current crisis, which lie in economic and political processes of privatization and price speculation that have unfolded over the past three decades and are bound up with the globalization of capitalist agriculture. Continue reading
As Josette Sheeran of the UN World Food Program put it last month, “We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it.” That’s a situation in which people start to question the very property relations that stand between them and those sacks of rice and bags of beans piled up behind that storefront grill and the riot policemen in front of it.4
—Tony Karon, writer for Time.com, April 9, 2008
The beginning of April 2008 witnessed an explosion of “food riots” around the world.
In Haiti, thousands protested for days throughout the country. In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, people carried empty plates to signify their hunger and smashed windows, set buildings and cars on fire, looted shops looking for food, and tried to storm the presidential palace. UN Blue Helmets (MINUSTAH) shot and killed at least five Haitians and wounded many others. In Bangladesh, many workers earn only $25 a month and the price of rice has doubled over the past year. 20,000 textile workers took to the streets to demand higher wages and to protest rising food prices. Scores were injured when police used gunfire to disperse the crowds.
In Egypt, when workers protested food prices in the textile center of Mahalla al-Kobra, north of Cairo, security forces shot dead two people and hundreds were arrested. In Burkina Faso in West Africa, unions and shopkeepers went on strike for two days to demand a cut in the price of rice and other staples. In Phnom Penh, Cambodia—where the average income is 50 cents a day and the cost of a kilogram of rice has risen to $1—demonstrators marched on parliament to protest food price hikes. In the Ivory Coast, where food prices have soared by between 30 percent and 60 percent from one week to the next, thousands marched on the home of President Laurent Gbagbo, chanting “We are hungry” and “Life is too expensive, you are going to kill us.” Over a dozen protestors were injured when police attacked the crowd with tear gas and batons. Continue reading