By Marcel Claude
On April 15 in Johannesburg, South Africa, at a meeting of governments and scientists around the world, the IAASTD report was released, which demands a radical change in the form of agricultural production and predicts the serious conflicts that the current shortage will entail. of food, the green revolution and GMOs are questioned, and the need to promote small-scale agriculture is affirmed as the only viable solution to the crisis.
According to the international organization Action Against Hunger, the food crisis that emerges from the large increase in the price of basic foodstuffs, will crudely and cruelly affect more than 850 million people, essentially in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. They are the ones who suffer from hunger, amid the abundance and waste of resources that the highly developed world allows itself. Furthermore, the World Bank itself, through its current president, Robert Zoellick, called for coordinated and global action to counteract the effects of the food crisis, since the increase in food prices is causing shortages, hunger and malnutrition worldwide. According to the institution itself, 33 countries in the world are facing the possibility of a social and political crisis due to high food and energy prices.
The situation is critical and it has not received - unsurprisingly - the news coverage that a problem of this magnitude would require. The situation is so acute that from the World Food Program (WFP), we are warned that the world's food reserves are at the lowest level in the last 30 years and that it threatens 100 million people who are “ the poorest of the poor ”and which will also affect the ability to respond to rising energy and fertilizer prices of more than 500 million poor farmers. Some international analysts argue that it would be enough for the price of rice to rise by 52% in two months and that of cereals by 84% in four months - in a context of an increase in the price of oil - to drop to two billion people towards the poverty line. This situation has led the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to maintain that he feared a "cascading crisis" that will affect growth and the security of the world if the food price crisis "is not managed properly. correct and urgent ".
It's probably not easy to clearly understand a situation like this, but the figures are so clear and obvious that you don't have to be a connoisseur to see the seriousness of the problem. Roughly 50% of humanity lives on less than two dollars a day and close to a billion on less than one dollar a day. We are talking about stark figures of people in very precarious conditions - some three thousand five hundred million people - who live in poor countries and who, on average, spend 75% of their budget on food, while in rich countries this type of expenditure does not exceed 15%. So, if we know that in poor countries, wheat, soybeans, rice and corn are the basis of their diet and if we also know that in the last 12 months, the price of wheat rose 130%, of soy 85 % and 35% of corn, while rice was 71%, it is not surprising that today the world is facing a serious food crisis. The price of rice went from $ 300 a ton to about $ 1,200 in a few months. WFP estimated the increase in food prices at 55% since June 2007, and some experts estimate this figure to be 70%.
These figures - however harsh and cold they may seem - allow us to explain the outbreaks of violence that have occurred throughout the planet, especially in Haiti with 5 deaths, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Cameroon with 40 dead, Mauritania, Mozambique , Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. In Haiti, the crisis brought down the Prime Minister, Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was removed from office by the Haitian Senate in a dramatic attempt to stop the violent protests of the population with numerous establishments looted, burned and destroyed due to the increase in food prices. An example that illustrates the delicate situation is what is happening in El Salvador, where according to the WFP, rural communities are buying 50% less food than 18 months ago, which means that their nutritional consumption, which is already very poor, has seen cropped in half. The situation is more than complicated as it is reaching the highly developed countries, whose inhabitants are now investing 5% more of their income in buying food. The United States, the world's largest consumer, is experiencing the worst rise in food prices in almost two decades, even some large distribution chains, such as Wal-Mart and Cotsco, have rationed the sale of some products such as rice. To add insult to injury, the United Nations has warned that the rise in the price of staple foods could continue into 2010.
Thus, in the Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand, their armies watch to prevent theft and looting in grain collection centers and in Thailand, the Army stands guard in the rice fields, while in Vietnam there have been increasingly frequent strikes due to food shortages. Indonesia, the world's third largest producer of rice, announces that it will only allow exports if reserves exceed three million tons, and Kazakhstan suspends all its wheat exports until September 1. For their part, Argentina, Vietnam and Russia have also restricted their exports of wheat, rice and soybeans to meet the domestic market.
Among the causes of the current food crisis, the British medical journal The Lancet, highlighted the effects of climate change, agricultural subsidies and, above all, the massive use of food products to produce so-called biofuels. Indeed, the adverse conditions generated by climate change, including prolonged droughts or sudden floods, prevent an increase in the production of cereals and basic grains, while the demand caused by the global increase in population does not stop. On the other hand, the growing demand from countries like China and India for quality food has no less impact on the increase in demand for grains; For example, in China, the demand for meat per inhabitant went from 20 to 50 kilos per year, which has a huge impact on cereal requirements, since to increase meat production, it is necessary to increase the consumption of these products by livestock. In turn, the need to reduce dependence on oil has led to the reallocation of important food products towards the production of so-called biofuels; currently around 100 million tonnes of cereals are being used per year to make ethanol or biodiesel.
Certainly, the issue of biofuels is highly controversial, since in some cases, when it comes to the use of grains such as corn and wheat that constitute the food base of billions of people - generally the poorest - it is everything an ethical contradiction and, like salmon production that destroys a natural fishing biomass almost ten times the size of salmon production, a global moratorium should be promoted to prevent the use of critical resources such as fishing biomass and grain reserves to sustain the lucrative business of salmon farmers and multinationals that -like Monsanto- have a global impact on the production and disposal of grains such as corn. It is worth remembering that with current oil prices, the incentive to reallocate grains to the production of these biofuels grows in direct proportion to the increase in the price of oil. In this regard, consider that a barrel of OPEC crude has already touched 111 dollars; Northern Brent, the benchmark in Europe, was already quoted in London at $ 117, and Texas, the benchmark in the United States, reached $ 120 in New York. Certainly, multinational companies like Monsanto - responsible for the fearsome Agent Orange and the proliferation of PCBs and dioxins in the world - will not have ethical tribulations when it comes to putting the 850 million hungry people in the world at risk if making a lot of money is about. The problem that biofuels are causing was even highlighted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who believes that the recent increase in food prices must be remedied and that the international community should examine the impact that biofuels are having on this issue. manufacture of biofuels.
No less important in explaining the current food crisis is the agricultural policy followed by the highly developed countries. The president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss, displaying the ideological bias of this institution, has declared that the sudden food crisis, which has intensified more in countries of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, is due to the trade and subsidy policies that rich countries give their farmers. Although the ideological obsession of the IMF that seeks to demolish all forms of taxes and subsidies is questioned, this should not cut us off from the enormous impact it can have on the world economy, especially in poor countries, the more than 300 billion dollars per year that rich countries (European Union, Japan, South Korea, United States and Canada) spend to subsidize their agricultural producers. This represents approximately 30% of the value of the production and in those circumstances there is no business to hold. This that developing countries cannot and cannot do, is outright unfair competition that affects the poorest of the world's poor, which is further aggravated when, many times, the misnamed development aid consists of delivering supplies of these food products to poor countries, helping to eliminate and destroy the traditional production of these peoples. Development aid is often used as an excuse to support the subsidy policies that countries make their farmers rich. Political hypocrisy is not the exclusive preserve of the Third World.
Not a few experts argue that the food aid policies of rich countries - where production is subsidized - have modified food habits in the last six decades and destroyed the local agricultural production of peoples in Africa and the Caribbean. Vandana Shiva - recognized leader of the Third World - blames the World Bank and the IMF for the destruction of the traditional agricultural systems of poor countries, which, thanks to development projects and structural adjustment policies, were forced to abandon the production of basic grains, to depend on exports of exotic flowers, fruits and vegetables, as well as biofuels. All these products are destined for the markets of the industrialized countries, which are the ones who monopolize the wealth of the world. Africans and Caribbeans stopped eating tubers such as cassava or sweet potato and other roots that were produced locally and formed the food base before wheat, rice and maize were introduced as development aid. In Haiti, rice imported from the United States at subsidized prices replaced tubers, roots and local production and, in some African countries, it is cheaper to import grains or onions from France than to produce them locally, contributing to dependency and the inability of poor countries to develop their agri-food sector.
This critical situation that the world is going through was ratified on April 15 in Johannesburg, South Africa, at a meeting of governments and scientists around the world - sponsored by the United Nations and the World Bank - where the report of the Panel for the International Assessment of Knowledge, Science and Technology in Agricultural Development (IAASTD), which demands a radical change in the way of agricultural production. In this report, the serious conflicts that the current and dramatic food shortage will imply are predicted, the green revolution - based on the intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers - and genetically modified organisms is questioned, and the need to promote and strengthen small-scale agriculture as the only viable solution to the crisis. IAASTD Director Robert Watson noted that " Business as usual is not an option", affirming that, in the way that the world currently faces food insufficiency, the problem of hunger, poverty or the serious environmental crisis that the planet is experiencing will not be solved. The report - produced by a group of 400 researchers worldwide - it was approved by 55 countries and only the United States, Canada and Australia showed their reservations, while some OECD countries rejected the questioning of agricultural subsidies.
The problem is posed and appeared as a long-standing plague and it is to be hoped that the world's politicians will be able to take on this challenge in the appropriate scale and dimension.
* Marcel Claude is Director of Research and Study of ARCIS University - Chile