The unchecked surge in the power of global agri-business is bringing the world to the brink of an unprecedented famine. At a world summit on food and agriculture which ended in Rome yesterday, the onus was placed firmly on the governments of developing nations to deliver food security to their people. The G8 countries did not even bother to send representatives.
If they had been there, they might have had to explain why it is that governments in developing countries are consistently unable to feed their populations, even when they are doing everything they can to follow the capitalist, free market development model proposed by the G8, World Bank and IMF.
Take Ethiopia, which is once again in the midst of a famine, in spite of a dramatic economic surge which has transformed the country’s economy. Over the past few years infrastructure development and industry have expanded dramatically. The nostrum is that this kind of profit-driven growth will in the end benefit the population as a whole – and yet people go on starving.
This is the country where the Blue Nile rises, and fertile land is plentiful. The government is now exploiting it according to the capitalist growth model. There is a booming government-backed industry growing flowers for export, with extensive irrigation and application of nitrates. And 300,000 acres of fertile land were sold to an Indian corporation this year for around $1 dollar an acre.
GRAIN, an organisation which campaigns with small farmers has exposed this global land grab. "We're seeing over 40 million hectares of prime farm land being taken over by financial investors and rich states. We're talking about $100 billion that's being mobilised. Essentially financial investors have seen that in the food crisis there's money to be made in farmland and they're buying it up very cheap," says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN.
The issue faced by the peoples of the world is not food shortages, but the intense commodification of food and land which is taking place alongside changes brought about by climate change.
Countries which have previously been able to feed their populations, such as Uganda and Paraguay, are now facing hunger. China is buying up land in other countries to try and deal with their own food shortages, caused by climate change and by the capitalist model of development now dominating the Chinese economy.
The food processing industry threatens the existence of farming even in wealthy countries such as the US and Britain. Farmers are no longer producing food, but raw materials which the global food industries process into “alue added” commodities, expanding the potential for profit. For an excellent example of how this process is being presented to people click here to see the latest McCain advert.
The raw materials producers – we call them farmers – are consistently driven down on price, and the global corporations stand between them and their potential market, ensuring that we have to buy our food from supermarkets and not from the producer.
Now this has been extended to the point where the food processing businesses are simply cutting farmers out of the process altogether and taking over the land, so that every scrap of profit goes their way. And the industrial methods they use are creating deserts and intensifying climate change.
While people in developing countries suffer from famine, their exported calories are being consumed in the west, in the form of cheap, high-fat, high-calorie diets, leading to a massive health crisis.
The movement for local food and grow-your-own may be on the right track in addressing an aspect of the problem, but it is viable only in small patches and does nothing to assist people who have no land, no economic resources and no power. That is concentrated in the hands of a handful of agri-corporations and client governments. How to overturn this obscene staten of affairs is what we need to address to prevent a global famine.