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Blazing Brazilian biofuel beatdown

The Food and Agriculture Organization will have a new director-general, José Graziano da Silva. Among Graziano’s accomplishments is the Zero Hunger programme, which has been partly responsible for getting 40 million people out of hunger. But you don’t get to run an international organisation without the support of your home country, and you don’t get that support in Brazil without deep debts to agribusiness. At his first press conference, Graziano started to pay them off, announcing that biofuels should not be “demonised” for their role in driving up food prices. That this contradicts the latest evidence is only surprising for as long as it takes to remember quite how big Brazil’s biofuel industry is.

Before Graziano’s remarks on biofuels were made public, Joao Pedro Stedile from the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement gave this interview, which gives some helpful context, and puts agrofuels in their place. More below the fold.

Interview with Joao Pedro Stedile from MST and Via Campesina Brazil on FAO elections and the world’s food problems.

By Fabiana Frayssinet, IPS, Rio de Janeiro, June 27, 2011.

1. What is the relevance of electing a Brazilian or a non- European, for Director of FAO?

It is an important symbol for Brazilian social activists, since in the foundation of FAO in the 1950s, its first secretary general was Josué de Castro, a Brazilian, social activist, author of the geography thesis for hunger and who died in exile during the military dictatorship. Now, the position is once again occupied by a Brazilian, who also defends the agrarian reform and struggles against hunger.

And there is a political meaning, because Graziano’s candidacy was elected by the countries of the South, poor, agricultural countries, against the candidacy of capital, from transnational corporations, represented by the Spanish candidate, who did not want to change anything.

2. Brazilian, Jose Graziano was elected General Director of FAO. What challenges lie ahead?

He will have many challenges ahead. FAO is a demoralized government institution because since the proclaimed Green Revolution in 60s, only increased the number of hungry people worldwide. And it has reached the figure of one billion people going hungry every day. The role of FAO in my opinion is to build proposals for agrarian and agricultural policies that ensure food sovereignty in every country in the world. That is, each people should be able to produce their own food in their own territory. Too do that governments need to apply the correct agrarian and agricultural policies. FAO needs to bring together serious researchers from all over the , it must listen to peasant movements and go on building the proposals according with the reality of each country and according to what people need.

3. What should be implemented from his experience of the Zero Hunger in Brazil, in the administration of FAO and what should be avoided?

The main contribution of zero hunger programme is within the framework of food security policy, which is different from food sovereignty. Food security is when governments assume the responsibility to avoid food shortage for its people. Here in Brazil, the Bolsa Familia program removed 10 million families from hunger, about 40 million people! It would be a first step if all governments adopted this policy. But it should be viewed as a temporary, emergency measure, to overcome the hunger of a billion people, and then we would have to build policies that lead to food sovereignty, whereby each country produces the necessary basic food for its people. In other words, overcoming hunger is based on structural and perennial measures, in order for people not to become dependent on receiving lifetime assistance from government.

4. How a new world food crisis and the rise of food prices can be prevented?

The current food crisis has its causes, mainly in: the oligopolistic control that some transnational companies have on the world market of grains, meat, milk, etc. Because of that they control prices and impose their conditions, since their main objective is profit only. Second, food has turned into mere commodities at this stage of capitalism, and crops and stocks are being used as a source of speculation in stock markets. Therefore whoever controls stock markets, control prices. It has been said that the crops of the next… five years, have been sold in the stock market! Third, we are experiencing industrial agriculture, which is increasingly dependent on oil. Every time the price of oil goes up, raise the prices of agricultural inputs, the cost rises, and rising prices of all agricultural commodities.

Fourth, in many countries of the world the so called green revolution, led those countries to monoculture, destruction and eviction of peasants from the countryside. For the first time in the history of human kind, in recent years the population of the cities is greater than the population in rural areas. Peasants have always been the main producers of food in each country. If the general policy used by capital leads to rural exodus and evictions, it is obvious that there is a decrease in the supply of food first to feed the rural population and second to supply the cities.

Therefore, peasant movements from Via Campesina worldwide, defend the implementation of international policies to control these causes. To do so, we need to start from the premise that food is not a commodity but a right that every person has. Governments should act in order to encourage food production in the first place, in order for each country to produce what is necessary for its people. And the international agricultural trade would only exchange the surplus of each country. Second, we must have policies that value the peasant world, the agrarian reform, and better living conditions in rural areas, in order for people to remain in rural areas, produce healthy food, do not use pesticides and organize in cooperatives to escape the control of transnational corporations.

Third, we must prevent the World Trade Organization-WTO to continue legislating and making agreements in order to regulate agriculture and foods. The WTO has no mandate, nor legitimacy to apply laws to peoples.

We need to reorganize agricultural production worldwide, recovering and applying large scale agroecology techniques, research and rural development, to avoid the oilization of agriculture. Each government must have absolute control of its food stocks.

Evidently, these policies do not depend on the FAO only. But they demand a true world network of peasant movements, organizations, researchers, public opinion and progressive governments to push for the necessary changes and to have the power to confront the interests of transnational corporations, the only to benefit from the food crisis and the rise of food prices .

5. Are the agrofuels responsible for these new crises?

The expansion of plant crops for the production of agrofuels contribute for the increase in food prices, although that is only one among many different causes that I pointed out earlier. Several countries such as Brazil are expanding their areas and allocating very good land, mainly for growing sugar cane to produce ethanol. In other countries other monocultures are being expanded. These monocultures affect the environmental balance and the climate conditions of the planet, they destroy all biodiversity that existed before in the territory, now occupied by vast plantations. Because ethanol has its prices referenced in oil, it represents an extraordinary agrarian profit for those who produce ethanol. The extraordinary profits from ethanol pulling prices of all agricultural commodities up. Therefore, according to laws of political economy, the high prices of ethanol, influence directly the price of all agricultural products, in the country and in the world.

translation ana amorim, Nova zelandia.

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