Sunday 11 September 2011

Why Is There Hunger in a World of Plenty?

Hunger is on the rise in the world, everywhere, in developing countries as well as in countries with an advanced economy like Spain or the USA. Every day in the world about 100,000 people, including almost 50,000 children, die of hunger or hunger-related causes. In fact, hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide - greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined! Yet, there is a general consensus by organizations working in the field (Oxfam, World Food Program, World Hunger, Food and Agriculture Organization, etc..) that there is enough food in the world for everyone. There is enough food to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day (FAO). Today food is produced for 12,000 million people (FAO) when the planet is inhabited by 7,000 people.

Today's food crisis can be attributed to two principal long-term factors, namely the green revolution agricultural model, and the policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO):

  • In recent decades, many countries have had to abandon their autonomous national agricultural research and food policies. Since the 1970s, the IMF and World Bank have imposed radical liberalisation and structural adjustment reforms on them, and these have been further buttressed by the WTO as well as through bilateral free trade and investment agreements.
  • The resulting agricultural and economic policy has neglected farmers in many developing countries. Most countries were forced to open up their markets, give foreign investors access to land, and to dispose of strategic food reserves. This opened the floodgates to global agricultural industry and speculation. Local markets are now being flooded with subsidised agricultural products from industrialised countries. Instead of producing food for local markets, farm products and commodities are being produced for industrialised countries. The result is that some 70 per cent of all developing countries are now net food importers and find themselves entirely at the mercy of world market prices.
  • Private firms have taken over what used to be government functions. They are forging ahead with transforming peasant farming into an industrial, energy-intensive agricultural model. In the hands of large corporations, seeds are being engineered to be chemical-dependent and to require regular watering, and are being protected by patents. The new seeds are not suited either to poor soils or to smallholdings.
  • Cereal has now become an object of speculation by large firms and investment funds on deregulated markets. The share of speculative investments in commodity futures trading – in other words in markets were investors do not physically buy or sell products but make bids only on future price movements (as is precisely the case for wheat or rice) This means that today as much as one-half of the wheat being traded on the Chicago grain exchange is already controlled by hedge and other speculative funds.
  • Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. The combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.
  • Much Third World grain and other food are fed to animals to produce cheaper meat to be eaten in developed countries. Rising demand for corn from China and other emerging nations with growing meat consumption has boosted prices as well
was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence. The deeper roots of the food crisis lie in the lethal cocktail consisting of years of pressure to liberalise and growing control by corporations, to which must be added the expectation of quick profits, and worsening climatic conditions. That explosive mix has led to soaring prices and hence astronomical profits. At the same time, it spells hunger and destitution for millions of human beings.
This year, the FAO reported that its index of food prices

Meanwhile, the world’s political and business elite keep gathering to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs as they are known, which include the “reduction” of hunger.

Even if somehow achieved, the MDGs are pathetically modest targets. They do not intend to solve the seriousness of the problems of the world. For example, Africa alone has enough food to feed the entire world many times over, yet a wave of starvation is devastating the continent. The problem is that greed-driven market forces decide the distribution of wealth and goods throughout the world.

Projects like the MDGs are shameless stunts- any real solution demands systemic change, not lists of vague aspirations from corrupt institutions like the UN. It is clear that the main responsibility for impoverishment and hunger lies in the very same governments and institutions that have hypocritically agreed on pursuing the MDGs.

Hunger is an essential part of a system that is very profitable for the most powerful people in the world.

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