The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in food production. Driving the potential calamity is rapid industrialisation in three decades of corporate-led globalisation and the consequences of intensive agriculture across swathes of Asia.
In the driving seat of the crisis is China, which is struggling to feed 22% of the world’s population with just 10% of its arable land. Speaking in Beijing yesterday, Han Jun, an expert on rural policy, said that maintaining “food security” was now a major challenge. In 30 years, urban residents would rise from the current 47% to 75% of the population, using more land for industry and infrastructure. In the cities, an increasingly meat-based western diet is replacing the more sustainable grain and vegetable-based rural diet.
“The deterioration in soil quality is now a very important problem,” Han told reporters. “I believe improving the quality [of soil] is of equal importance to protecting the amount of arable land.” His warnings come at a time, however, when twice as much nitrogen fertiliser is used on the average hectare of Chinese farmland compared with the global average. And more than a tenth of farmland is polluted by factory waste, including heavy metals and other toxins.
In effect, the wholesale adoption by the Chinese ruling Stalinist elites of corporate, profit-driven development, is creating a crisis for the rural and urban poor, while the bureaucrats get rich quick. They are in the forefront of buying up potential development land and selling it at vast premiums, for example.
Han’s plea for a more scientific use of fertilisers, including the use of organic fertiliser from human waste is a much more sustainable approach. But his appeal contradicts the latest decisions of the Chinese government.
It has approved two new strains of genetically modified rice, threatening indigenous strains and forcing farmers to buy seed from corporations. And, Beijing is also supporting “agricultural entrepreneurs” in buying up plantation land in neighbouring Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
It is even possible it could become profitable to export to China food grown on the thousands of hectares of African plantations now owned by Chinese agri-businesses. Initially the aim was to grow food for local sale but that could change. Taking this food out of the African market would increase prices and undermine food security even further.
So the notion that carbon emissions should be cut in the developed economies in order that China, India and Indonesia can increase theirs while continuing down this well-worn and disastrous profit-driven road, is not “climate justice” or justice of any kind.
Fair and equal development can only be achieved within an international model, which challenges the right of the corporations and their client governments – wherever they are in the world – to go on destroying land, people and eco-systems in pursuit of profit.
As we say in our Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions: “The concept of climate justice, which underpins the ‘contraction and convergence’ idea, needs to be expanded to include justice within countries and not just between them...
“A new kind of international co-operation would bring together the peoples of the planet in a democratic forum to plan together to halt the growth in emissions and to mitigate the impacts that are now inevitable. They would draw on all the expertise represented by climate scientists, world food and health experts and support each others’ development towards self-government and economic independence.”
Join us in helping to win people over to this truly revolutionary idea, with a view to putting it into practice with some urgency.