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The Food Crisis is Not About a Shortage of Food

Jim Goodman

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.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jim Goodman

Jim Goodman

Jim Goodman is a retired third-generation dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin , and the president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

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