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Date: Thu, 28 Dec 1995 16:48:25 -0500
Sender: Progressive News & Views List <PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: Global Food Surplasses Generate Fami
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/* Written by twn in igc:twn.features */
/* Global Food Surplasses Generate Fam */

Global Food Surplusses Generate Famine

By Michel Chossudovsky, Third World Network Features, 28 December 1995

In the late 20th century, famine is not a consequence of a shortage of food. On the contrary, famines are spurted as a result of a global oversupply of grain staples. Famine has become a worldwide phenomenon: death and starvation are striking simultaneously in all major regions of the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, Northeast Brazil, South Asia, the Andean altiplano of South America, the former Soviet Union.

From the dry savannah of the Sahelian belt, famine has extended its grip into the wet tropical heartland. A large part of the population of the African continent is affected. There are several million people in famine zones in India and Bangladesh. Moreover, in the labour-surplus economies of South Asia and the Far East (eg. India, China, Indonesia), an important segment of the rural and urban population driven well below the poverty line due to the absence of employment opportunities, is seriously at risk.

Hunger and deprivation, however, are no longer limited to the Third World: the economic crisis is conducive to a process of global impoverishment resulting in unemployment, homelessness and low wages in the urban ghettoes and shanty towns, and the destruction of the independent farmer in Europe and North America. Low levels of food consumption and malnutrition are increasingly hitting the urban poor in the rich countries. According to a recent study, 30 million people in the United States are classified as hungry.

What are the underlying causes? The global TV image spotlights the victims of civil war, drought and flood. Famine in Somalia or Mozambique is mechanically ascribed to the external political and climatic factors: the absence of rain-carrying clouds and air pressure anomalies... History is distorted, only the surface and colour of world events are disclosed. Somalia was self-sufficient in food until the 1970s; what precipitated the collapse of civil society? Why were food agriculture and nomadic pastoralism destroyed?

Complex and far-reaching changes in the global economy have taken place since the early 1980s which redefine the structure of both industry and agriculture. The family farm is driven into bank- ruptcy, the agricultural producer loses control over the land which he farms. And in the developing countries, the peasantry is increasingly transformed into an army of landless seasonal plan- tation workers.

The earnings of farmers in rich and poor countries alike are squeezed by a handful of global agro-industrial enterprises which simultaneously control the markets for grain, farm inputs, seeds and processed foods. One giant firm Cargill Inc. with more than 140 affiliates and subsidiaries around the world controls a large share of the international trade in grain. Since the 1950s, Cargill has become the main contractor of US food aid funded under Public Law 480 (1954).

With the signing of the final act of the Uruguay Round, the articles of agreement of the new World Trade Organisation (WTO) will give unrestricted freedom to the food giants to enter the seeds makets of developing countries and establish plant breeders’ rights to the detriment of millions of small farmers. The acquisition of exclusive intellectual property rights over plant varieties by international agro-industrial interests, also favours the destruction of biodiversity.

World agriculture has for the first time in history the capacity to satisfy the food requirements of the entire planet, yet the very nature of the global market system prevents this from occurring. The capacity to produce food is immense yet the levels of food consumption remain exceedingly low because a large proportion of the worlds population lives in conditions of abject poverty and deprivation. Moreover, the process of modernisation of agriculture (including the Green Revolution) has led to the dispossession of the peasantry, increased landlessness and environmental degradation. In other words, the very forces which encourage global food production to expand are also conducive to a contraction in the standard of living and a decline in the demand for food.

The economic policy actions of G-7 governments and the Washing- ton-based international financial institutions tend to support this worldwide restructuring of agriculture. National agriculture and the independent peasantry are undermined, demand and supply relations are remoulded. Global impoverishment since the debt crisis tends to favour stagnation in the production of basic food staples while redirecting agriculture towards high value added non-staple and processed foods.

Throughout the developing world, food security is destroyed, the national grain market is displaced, grain prices are realigned with those of the world market and the peasantry is subordinated to the requirements of the global food monopolies. In turn, local-level merchants and money lenders as well as bureaucrats become increasingly tied into the interests of the food transnationals.

The food giants are not only the recipients of US food aid, but have become development brokers in a wide range of agro-industrial projects funded under PL 480. With direct access to the World Bank, the US Department of Agriculture and the national governments, they exercise a dominant role in shaping the agricultural policy of indebted countries.

Since the early 1990s a similar reform pattern has affected the countries of the former Eastern bloc with devastating economic and social consequences. In September 1994, the Ukraine signed an agreement on macro-economic reform with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which laid the basis for the restructuring of its agricultural sector. The IMF shock treatment implemented in October 1994 wreaked havoc: the price of bread increased overnight by 300%, electricity prices by 600%, public transportation by 900%. Combined with the abrupt hikes in fuel and energy prices, the lifting of subsidies and the freeze on credit will contribute to destroying the Ukraines breadbasket economy. In November 1994, World Bank negotiators were examining the overhaul of the Ukraines agriculture. With trade liberalisation (which is part of the proposed package), the door is open to the dumping of US grain surpluses and food aid on the domestic market. This would contribute to destabilising one of the worlds largest and most productive wheat economies.

Third World Network Features