Posted in Environment

It’s not a “food” crisis, it’s a Hunger Crisis

It’s not a “food” crisis, it’s a Hunger Crisis Posted on 26 January 20112 Comments

According to the World Food Programme, 925 million people across the world currently do not have enough to eat.  That number is increasing.

Our problem is not food scarcity, but food distribution. There is plenty of eligible land, and plenty of food. While the 925 million starve, about 2 billion people in the world face mass obesity. As Caroline Spelman’s response to current food price hikes and Foresight’s report on Food & Farming clearly shows, the wealthiest are pricing the poor out of the right to eat.

Cause: High Food Prices & Speculation

It started in Algeria. A hungry population’s riots forced a government into forcing through subsides for fear of revolt. But it didn’t end there – autocratically-run Tunisia gave birth to a revolution, inflamed by a suicide and exacerbated by starvation. Now Egypt erupts with protest, and their government silences social networking websites which were said to have fuelled Tunisia’s movement for change. Hunger and instability go hand-in-hand.

This hike in food prices does not reflect entirely a lack of food supply. Commodity speculation, where investors (like banks) make bets on the future price of certain foodstuffs, has significantly impacted this hike, and the hike of 2007 and 2008. These “bets” are futures contracts, where an agro-business sets a price at which it can sell x amount of a particular type of food in the future, should it need to. These contracts are exchanged on a financial market, where demand often exceeds supply, as large speculators (like pension funds) hoard contracts in order to make money from them. This means that agro-businesses can often demand higher price-contracts for their food and banks will accept them (even if delivery on that contract is never required) – thus the food price is pushed up.

Speculative contracts are not people ensuring that they can afford to buy food, but as George Soros has said:

It is like hoarding food in the midst of a famine, only to make profits from rising prices.

Regulation on food commodities was removed due to the lobbying influence of companies like Goldman Sachs in the late 1990s and early 200os. This deregulation has created price volatility and mass hunger, without bringing any benefits for the farmers. In fact, even strong supporters of the Common Agricultural Policy, which regulates the amount people can buy/sell food,  have spoken out strongly against deregulated food commodity speculation.

**ACTION: The EU is currently passing a review of its regulatory measures, some of which include food commodities. As part of this review, WDM has written their response which they encourage you to add your voice too!**

Cause: Biofuels, Land Grab & lack of accessible farming land

Financial investment, false solutions to climate change and increased demand for fossil fuels have driven a gross increase in biofuel production over the last few years. In the food crisis of 2008, 30% of the price hike was said to have come from biofuels replacing food crops, which pushed 100 million people into desperate poverty.

Biofuel growth has only substantially increased since, thanks to a 2008 EU agreement that 10% of transport fuel would come from renewable sources by 2020. The recent growth of jatropha, which requires fertile arable land, has replaced food crops in Mozambique, Ghana and Tanzania – all of which are food insecure nations. Furthermore, land for food growth often lacks access to water due to the vast quantities of water required for biofuel growth, as has been seen in Kenya’s Malewa region.

The growth of biofuels is sustained through companies from richer countries buying land from a poorer country (land grabbing). Currently, in Africa, an area larger than the size of Denmark is owned by European companies to grow biofuels crops destined for the EU market. In West Papua, Indonesian government forces are clearing forested land for biofuel growth, while indigenous groups are tortured for opposing. Through this process, local people are driven off the land that they sustain themselves off only to face high food prices and unemployment driven desperate poverty.

Further causes

  • Large areas of agriculture are reserved for animal feed, because of our increasing demands for meat consumption on a regular basis.
  • Overconsumption in the West (as seen through obesity rates) means that the amount of food available to different peoples is unfairly distributed, pushing up prices in poorer countries (in comparison to daily income).
  • Though she is most likely to be working in agricultural production, a woman’s access to land through ownership legislation may be denied. Alternatively, the lack of health care provisions for women often mean that less food is produced.
  • Soil erosion and salinity due to introduced crops, deforestation and the overuse of agricultural land.

False Solution : GM

As Kevin explained before, this hunger crisis will not be solved by a Green Revolution – a subject that remains at the top of the agenda for almost all governments internationally. Not only because Genetically Modified (GM) crops are corporately owned, but because they are generally rejected by most indigenous people and peasants. La Via Campesina, the grassroots agricultural movement, has long campaigned against GM for

the threat it poses to the very model of agricultural and food production which is now urgently needed in order to protect the environment, biodiversity, European food sovereignty and rural livelihoods.

In Gujarat, India, where small-scale farmers have been “given” GM crops to encourage their production, local farmers have told me that they do not eat the crops themselves as they taste wrong and do not follow seasonal patterns. Instead, farmers often sell GM products to the city and consume non-GM foods that they grow separately.

It hardly needs saying, but GM crops are hardly produced to “feed the world” but, as evidence shows, to line the pockets of the rich.

Furthermore, the GM solution completely fails to recognise why food has become expensive. It assumes only natural disasters are causing price increases without looking at the economic and political case that have created these problems in the first place.

Real Solutions

There is no single solution to the great hunger crisis that we are facing. However, we can draw certain conclusions:

  1. If not stopping all food commodities trading, we must reregulate speculation through transparency, position limits, limiting trade only between the those involved (i.e. single bank & farmer) and preventing companies from lobbying powers that allow for further deregulation.
  2. Stopping all fuel production from primary agricultural sources, so as to prevent growth of plants for fuel consumption only.
  3. The reintroduction of organic and small-scale agricultural growth (smallholders), with free seeds provided to those who need it. This will prevent soil erosion and ensure that sustainable food growth is possible.
  4. Discouraging food waste/hoarding, especially from supermarkets who would rather throw away food than use it to feed the hungry/poor as to ensure their prices do not drop.
  5. Encourage States to adopt security of tenure measures to those who work and live on the land – helping women and local communities from being evicted into poverty.
  6. Changing food behaviour patterns through government investment in local food growth (and ensuring that McDonalds and Pepsi Co. don’t write up our health policies).

2 thoughts on “It’s not a “food” crisis, it’s a Hunger Crisis

  1. Thanks, and well done Nishma for your thoughtful analysis.

    Here’s a couple more pointers to add to what you’ve said.

    I think we shouldn’t downplay the effect of climate change. To the (unknowable but inveitable) extent that climate change has played a part in the disasters and terrible harvests in Russia, Pakistan, Australia, Sahel (and probably many others), it is surely a factor in the short term.

    And in the long term, the impacts on hunger are, for me, the primary reason why we should be concerned about climate change.

    I see that you’re reluctant to admit that natural disasters are so relevant, because that plays into the hands of the GM lobby, and because this would be to ignore the economic and political case.

    But disasters and disaster responses are themselves political – which climate change (also itself pretty political) will only exacerbate with hotter temperatures, floods and salination.

    Especially in the tropics, various forms of eco/organic agriculture not only achieve way higher food productivity from fields for much cheaper price than ‘green revolution’ techniques (; but can increase resilience to shocks, disasters, and climate change. Something that GM-monocrop solutions can never claim. For example, high soil organic matter makes soil retain water better (good in a drought), as well as more absorbent and less liable to erode (good in a flood). Preventing the adoption of these techniques increases vulnerability, disasters and hunger. This is a reason why the pernicious arguments of the GM technocrats must be defeated.

    But this implies that it /is/ as much a “food” crisis as a hunger crisis. To add to your list of real solutions, an eco-agricultural revolution will not happen on its own. We need intensive investment to share techniques and skill-up farmers. And we need to re-instate the extension services that were denied to the rural poor when IMF/World Bank structural adjustment removed them.

    One final question for you: I agree that the problem of hunger is one of distribution rather than lack of food or lack of supply. But what does this mean? How can distribution of food be organised differently? Do we not also need to look at trade injustice as a root cause?


  2. Pingback: It’s not a “food” crisis, it’s a Hunger Crisis – The quest for lasting and sustainable solutions

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