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Mexico goes back to the land
Gustavo Esteva, The Guardian
This is grim news: food prices are reaching record levels worldwide. The thousands of farmers who have killed themselves over the past decade seem to have no precedent. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s director, the goal to reduce the number of hungry people by half will only be achieved in 2050.
In Mexico, this is just another facet of the crisis that started in the 80s, when the government dismantled its support for peasant farmers. “My obligation as minister of agriculture is to get rid of 10 million peasants,” declared Carlos Hank in 1991. “What are you going to do with them?” a journalist asked. “That is not my area of work”, he answered.
But no one assumed that responsibility. Vicente Fox, former president of Coca-Cola and president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, used to say “those peasants can be gardeners in Texas”. For him and other policymakers, Mexico had too many peasants; America, their model, was producing food for the world with only 2.5% of the labour force. In 1992 they opened to the private market the land which had been in the hands of peasants since the 1910 revolution. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 1994, consolidated this anti-peasant orientation in the name of free market.
Those policies drastically reduced food production, and Mexico now imports more than half of the grains it needs. Many Mexicans were forced to emigrate, and a fifth of Mexicans now live in the US.
…Many Mexican peasants resisted the dominant policies and began to build their own alternative. Without official support, they increased both farmed areas and yields. Migrants invested part of their income in cultivation. Those initiatives are complemented by urban agriculture, following the Cuban example: Havana currently produces more than half of the food it consumes…
(14 February, 2011)
Corn’s Domino Effect
Kay McDonald, New York Times
Prices for the food staples most important for human consumption are not as high as they were in 2008.
The important human food staples are rice, wheat and corn. In the 2007-08 food crisis, rice and wheat supplies became dangerously low and their prices surged. This time around, the foods that have caused the FAO food price index to rise are primarily sugar, corn and oils…
(15 February, 2011)
This is part of a series running on the New York Times’ Room for Debate page: Is the World Producing Enough Food?
Stop the global land grab
Gisele Henriques, The Guardian
“NGOs don’t mobilise people, desperation mobilises people,” said a Cambodian land activist as he related the experience of Boeung Kak villagers who were driven off their land by their own government to make way for corporate profiteering.
Such stories were abundant from all corners of the world this week at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The forum, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, attracted representatives from civil society organisations, social movements and unions from more than 123 countries. Present among them were land rights activists and small farmers, who came to relate and decry the unfettered grabbing of their land.
Land grabbing emerged as the hot topic in this year’s forum. The phenomenon is defined as taking possession of and/or controlling a scale of land for commercial or industrial agricultural production, which is disproportionate in size in comparison to the average land holding in the region. Stories from Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, India, Brazil and Mozambique illustrate that the phenomenon is widespread and the consequences can be dire. Land investments from overseas to secure food supplies and biofuels, speculation and resource extraction are the major drivers of this phenomenon.
…In a world where the commoditisation of resources has become the norm, it is not surprising that communities are losing their most precious assets to the highest bidder. The spectre of a hungry world is being used to push the agenda for industrial agriculture, but in reality, the majority of the land is used for producing animal feed and agrofuels, as well as land speculation, rather than food crops. A World Bank report on land acquisitions shows that only 37% of this land is used to grow food.
…Small family farms are considered economically “inefficient” because their yields feed their communities and not the global market. But family farms actually have higher productivity per hectare than their larger counterparts. Nevertheless, investment in them has been reduced in the last 20 years in favour of industrial farming.
…Inherent in this predicament is the commodification of land, which stems from the neoliberal development model that drives policymakers. The very architecture of this global governance and economic system must be challenged and reformed. The time has come to reinvest in the kind of agriculture that actually feeds people. The notion that small farmers are unproductive renders them invisible; their contributions to their communities and local development go unrecognised and with that they go on tightening their belts, one notch at a time…
(12 February, 2011)
From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty: The Challenge of Social Movements
Eric Holt-Gimenez, Alternet
The following is an excerpt from Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal,edited by Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar (Monthly Review Press)
From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty: The Challenge of Social Movements
The current global food crisis—decades in the making—is a crushing indictment against capitalist agriculture and the corporate monopolies that dominate the world’s food systems. The role of the industrial agrifood complex in creating the crisis (through the monopolization of input industries, industrial farming, processing, and retailing) and the self-serving neoliberal solutions proposed by the world’s multilateral institutions and leading industrial countries are being met with skepticism, disillusion, and indifference by a general public more concerned with the global economic downturn than with the food crisis. Neoliberal retrenchment has met growing resistance by those most affected by the crisis—the world’s smallholder farmers.
Solutions to the food crisis advanced by the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and mega-philanthropy, propose accelerating the spread of biotechnology, reviving the Green Revolution, reintroducing the conditional lending of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and recentralizing the now fragmented power of the World Trade Organization (WTO) by concluding the Doha “Development Round” of trade negotiations. These institutions have a mandate from capital to mitigate hunger, defuse social unrest, and reduce the overall numbers of peasant producers worldwide—without introducing any substantive changes to the structure of the world’s food systems. Their neoliberal strategies are in stark contrast to the proposals for ecological approaches to agriculture (agroecology) and food sovereignty advanced by farmer federations and civil society organizations worldwide that instead seek to transform food systems. Clashes and declarations of protest at recent summits in Rome, Hokkaido, and Madrid, the growing public resistance to the industrial agrifood complex, and the rise, spread, and political convergence of movements for agroecology, land reform, food justice, and food sovereignty, all indicate that the food crisis has become the focal point in a class struggle over the future of our food systems.
…But with record grain harvests in 2007, according to the FAO, there was more than enough food in the world to feed everyone in 2008—at least 1.5 times current demand. In fact, over the last 20 years, food production has risen steadily at over 2 percent a year, while the rate of population growth has dropped to 1.14 percent a year. Globally, population is not outstripping food supply. Over 90 percent of the world’s hungry are simply too poor to buy enough food. High food prices are a problem because nearly 3 billion people—half of the world’s population—are poor and near-poor.
…Unsurprisingly, the food crisis has provided the world’s major agrifood monopolies with windfall profits. In the last quarter of 2007 as the world food crisis was breaking, Archer Daniels Midland’s earnings jumped 42 percent, Monsanto’s by 45 percent, and Cargill’s by 86 percent. Cargill’s subsidiary, Mosaic Fertilizer, saw profits rise by 1,200 percent. The steady concentration of profits and market power in the industrial North mirrors the loss of food producing capacity and the growth of hunger in the Global South. Despite the oft-cited productivity gains of the Green Revolution, and despite decades of development campaigns—most recently, the elusive Millennium Development Goals—per capita hunger is rising and the number of desperately hungry people on the planet has grown steadily from 700 million in 1986 to 800 million in 1998. Today, the number stands at over 1 billion. Fifty years ago, the developing countries had yearly agricultural trade surpluses of $1 billion. After decades of capitalist development and the global expansion of the industrial agrifood complex, the southern food deficit has ballooned to $11 billion a year. The cereal import bill for low-income food-deficit countries is now over $38 billion and the FAO predicts it will grow to $50 billion by 2030. This shift from food self-sufficiency to food dependency has been accomplished by colonizing national food systems and destroying peasant agriculture.
…One example of the potential transformational power of integrating peasant advocacy with agroecological practice comes from a peasant movement that is actively integrating these two aspects into its own organization. Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), one of Vía Campesina’s founding members, is the largest rural social movement in the Americas. The MST has had a significant influence within Vía Campesina and a profound effect on agrarian politics worldwide. The MST has settled more than a million landless peasants and forced the redistribution of 35 million acres of land (an area the size of Uruguay).
…Today, the seven organizations that participate in La Vía Campesina-Brasil have all adopted agroecology as an official policy, as have many organizations in Vía Campesina-International. The MST and La Vía Campesina-Brasil have established 11 secondary schools and introduced university courses in agroecology to train the movements’ youth to provide technical assistance to campesino families in rural areas. The integration of agroecology into the new agrarian movements is a welcome development because it helps advance forms of production that are consistent with the political and social goals of food sovereignty, and the MST schools in and of themselves are a testament to the movements’ capacity to advance agroecological policies at state and federal levels.
…The global food crisis had reinforced neoliberal retrenchment in agricultural development and breathed new life into the sagging Green Revolution, now resurgent in Africa and parts of Asia. Like its predecessor, the new Green Revolution is essentially a campaign designed to mobilize resources for the expansion of capitalist agriculture. Similar to the role once played by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations (albeit on a much smaller scale), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the new philanthropic flagship for the Green Revolution tasked with resurrecting the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and obtaining broad social and government agreement for the expansion of agro-industrial capital into peasant communities. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa serves up shallow definitions of terms like agroecology, sustainability, and even food sovereignty in an effort to strip them of their deeper, agrarian content and enroll NGOs and their stakeholders into the Green Revolution.
The food crisis is bad, but another Green Revolution will make things much worse. The alternative, smallholder-driven agroecological agriculture, was recognized by the IAASTD as the best strategy for rebuilding agriculture, ending rural poverty and hunger, and establishing food security in the Global South. To be given a chance, however, this strategy requires a combination of strong political will and extensive on-the-ground agroecological practice to overcome opposition from the well-financed Green Revolution.
(22 February, 2011)
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