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The food crisis is not about a shortage of food

The food crisis of 2008 never really ended, it was ignored and forgotten. The rich and powerful are well fed; they had no food crisis, no shortage, so in the West, it was little more than a short lived sound bite, tragic but forgettable. To the poor in the developing world, whose ability to afford food is no better now than in 2008, the hunger continues.

Hunger can have many contributing factors; natural disaster, discrimination, war, poor infrastructure. So why, regardless of the situation, is high tech agriculture always assumed to be the only the solution? This premise is put forward and supported by those who would benefit financially if their “solution” were implemented. Corporations peddle their high technology genetically engineered seed and chemical packages, their genetically altered animals, always with the “promise” of feeding the world.

Politicians and philanthropists, who may mean well, jump on the high technology band wagon. Could the promise of financial support or investment return fuel their apparent compassion?

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation supposedly works to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa. While these sentiments and goals may be philanthropy at its best, some of the coalition partners have a different agenda.

One of the key players in AGRA, Monsanto, hopes to spread its genetically engineered seed throughout Africa by promising better yields, drought resistance, an end to hunger, etc. etc. Could a New Green Revolution succeed where the original Green Revolution had failed? Or was the whole concept of a Green Revolution a pig in a poke to begin with?

Monsanto giving free seed to poor small holder farmers sounds great, or are they just setting the hook? Remember, next year those farmers will have to buy their seed. Interesting to note that the Gates Foundation purchased $23.1 million worth of Monsanto stock in the second quarter of 2010. Do they also see the food crisis in Africa as a potential to turn a nice profit? Every corporation has one overriding interest--- self-interest, but surely not charitable foundations?

Food shortages are seldom about a lack of food, there is plenty of food in the world, the shortages occur because of the inability to get food where it is needed and the inability of the hungry to afford it. These two problems are principally caused by, as Francis Moore Lappe' put it, a lack of justice. There are also ethical considerations, a higher value should be placed on people than on corporate profit, this must be at the forefront, not an afterthought.

In 2008, there were shortages of food, in some places, for some people. There was never a shortage of food in 2008 on a global basis, nor is there currently. True, some countries, in Africa for example, do not have enough food where it is needed, yet people with money have their fill no matter where they live. Poverty and inequality cause hunger.

The current food riots in Mozambique were a result of increased wheat prices on the world market. The UN Food and Agriculture organization, (FAO) estimates the world is on course to the third largest wheat harvest in history, so increasing wheat prices were not caused by actual shortages, but rather by speculation on the price of wheat in the international market.

While millions of people go hungry in India, thousands of kilos of grain rot in storage. Unable to afford the grain, the hungry depend on the government to distribute food. Apparently that's not going so well.

Not everyone living in a poor country goes hungry, those with money eat. Not everyone living in rich country is well fed, those without money go hungry. We in the US are said to have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world, yet even here, surrounded by an over abundance of food, there are plenty of hungry people and their numbers are growing. Do we too have a food crisis, concurrent with an obesity crisis?

Why is there widespread hunger? Is food a right? Is profit taking through speculation that drives food prices out of the reach of the poor a right? Is pushing high technology agriculture on an entire continent at that could feed itself a (corporate) right?

In developing countries, those with hunger and poor food distribution, the small farmers, most of whom are women, have little say in agricultural policy. The framework of international trade and the rules imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on developing countries, places emphasis on crops for export, not crops for feeding a hungry population.

Despite what we hope are the best intentions of the Gates Foundation, a New Green Revolution based on genetically engineered crops, imported fertilizer and government imposed agricultural policy will not feed the world. Women, not Monsanto, feed most of the worlds population, and the greatest portion of the worlds diet still relies on crops and farming systems developed and cultivated by the indigenous for centuries, systems that still work, systems that offer real promise.

The report of 400 experts from around the world, The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), is ignored by the proponents of a New Green Revolution, precisely because it shows that the best hope for ending hunger lies with local, traditional, farmer controlled agricultural production, not high tech industrial agriculture.

To feed the world, fair methods of land distribution must be considered. A fair and just food system depends on small holder farmers having access to land. The function of a just farming system is to insure that everyone gets to eat, industrial agriculture functions to insure those corporations controlling the system make a profit.

The ultimate cause of hunger is not a lack of Western agricultural technology, rather hunger results when people are not allowed to participate in a food system of their choosing. Civil wars, structural adjustment policies, inadequate distribution systems, international commodity speculation and corporate control of food from seed to table--- these are the causes of hunger, the stimulus for food crises.

If the Gates Foundation is serious about ending hunger in Africa, they need to read the IAASTD report, not Monsanto's quarterly profit report. Then they can decide how their money might best be spent.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, WI and a WK Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow.

Editorial Notes: I hope that Jim Goodman and Common Dreams will forgive me for reposting this article in its entirety, but I feel strongly that this is a message that needs to be heard far and wide. (UPDATE) Jim Goodman writes: "I forgive you." Related: Letter from Mozambique on Raj Patel's blog about the context of the food riots in Mozambique. -KS

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