Sunday, 6 July 2008

G8, agribusiness blackmail the world's hungry

Judge not that ye be not judged... what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matt 7:1,9

Sam Urquhart, a London UK journalist, reports that agribusiness lobbies control the highest levels of the UN food aid program, and that the G8 (the richest countries) are blackmailing the FAO and UN -- insisting that the UN and poor nations support the WTO Doha program, unrestricted globalization, environmental deregulation in agriculture, and unrestricted entry for GMO and agribusiness interests -- while holding back funds desperately needed for emergency food shipments.

Secretary General of the OECD Angel Gurria states, "The way to address rising food prices is not through protectionism but to open up agricultural markets and to free up the productive capacity of farmers, who have proven repeatedly that they will respond to market incentives." FAO news 29 May 08

FAO Secretary General Jacques Diouf [stated officially 28 May 08] that "high food prices represent an excellent opportunity for increased investments in agriculture by both the public and private sectors to stimulate production and productivity" adding that "Governments, supported by their international partners, must now undertake the necessary public investment and provide a favourable environment for private investments."

Diouf deliberately ignored alternatives proposed by NGOs. (1)

Urquhart concludes:

The agenda for the [Rome FAO] summit is clear – more of the same, with the World Bank back at the helm. The systematic destruction continues. Critics of the World Bank have long questioned its motives in dispensing aid to poorer nations and have attacked the conditionalities that it has attached to its loans as a means of opening up undeveloped economies to corporate predation. Yet the IMF and World Bank have stumbled in recent years, partly due to their failed policies, but also due to a credit glut brought on by spiraling oil prices. Smaller nations have not needed the services of the global institutions and their power has begun to wane. But with the credit crunch and rising food prices, some nations are headed back to the trough.

John Holmes of UN Humanitarian affairs told Reuters on 30 Apr 08

People have described it as a silent rolling tsunami and I think that's quite a good analogy... you have hundreds of millions of people who are eating less, and eating less well. This will have a dramatic effect ... because if you are malnourished as a young child you will never recover from it mentally or physically." On top of that, if parents have to spend more on food, they will be forced to cut back on their children's healthcare and education, further harming the next generation's ability to prosper later in life.

Urquhart insists there is not a food shortage. It is “the global food market” that has made starvation inevitable, by destroying local food security, increasing trade imbalances, and raising prices when the rich – and their biofuelled vehicles – increase consumption. The market serves the wants of those who can pay, not human needs.

Forty years ago, developing nations as a whole had a food export surplus of $7 billion, by 1980 that had shrunk to $1 billion and, according to Food First, 'the southern food deficit has ballooned to US $11 billion/year'.

The official Declaration of the June 08 FAO food summit (as reported by Canada's IISD) does not contradict Urquhart in any significant way:

  • ...donors and international financial institutions should provide balance of payments support and/or budget support to food-importing, low-income countries. The relevant international institutions are called upon to simplify the eligibility procedures for existing financial mechanisms to support agriculture and environment. [See NZ blog "Carbon Credits to fund GMOs" in Celsias 9 Jan 08]

  • [aid is to include] locally-adapted seeds, fertilizers, animal feeds and other inputs, as well as technical assistance, to increase production; [from Cargill, now linked with Monsanto, and ADM, Dupont, Dow, Novartis, and others (3)]

  • development partners are called upon to undertake initiatives to moderate unusual fluctuations in food prices;

  • WTO members reaffirm their commitment to the rapid and successful conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda...implementing an aid for trade package should provide a valuable complement to the Doha Development Agenda

  • the prioritization [of]... financial mechanisms and investment

  • increased investment in science and technology for food and agriculture and the establishment of supportive policies and governance structures in accordance with the Monterrey Consensus [dictated by WTO, WB and IMF] (4)

  • continued efforts toward liberalizing international trade in agriculture by reducing trade barriers and market-distorting policies

A sustainable global agriculture must move in the opposite direction, explains Katarina Wahlberg in Global Policy Forum May 2008:

Governments must immediately increase food aid, ban biofuel production and develop policies to supersede factory farms and other unsustainable farming practices.

The [April 2008] IAASTD report (2) ...presented a compelling vision of truly sustainable agriculture. It argues for an alternative to the “New Green Revolution”, [an industrial-agriculture model that increases production at the cost of severe environmental damage.] It focuses less on increasing yields, and more on reducing hunger, through “environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development.” The report talks about addressing the needs of small-scale farmers, by increasing their access to land and natural resources. It cautions against Genetically Modified (GM) crops, as too little is known about their long-term effects. Further, the report warns that patenting of GM crops undermines local farming practices and concentrates ownership of resources. Finally, the authors propose financial incentives to reduce deforestation and conserve natural habitats so as to mitigate climate change. A “fundamental shift” in agricultural policy is needed.

(1) Food First urges 4 steps to global food sovereignty: take agriculture out of WTO to protect small farmers, put a moratorium on biofuels, rebuild national farm economies with import controls against G8 dumping, prefer agroecology to GMO technofixes.

California writer William M H Kotke's article 10 June 08 on the global ecovillage network describes a similar alternative. He is the author of Garden Earth and Final Empire.

(2) The IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development) based on three years of international research by 400 scientists and other experts, was sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, WHO and representatives of governments, civil society, private sector and scientific institutions from around the world. It used a consultative 'bottom-up' process to assess the different needs of different regions and communities.

(3) See Corpwatch reports and QIAP (Quaker International Affairs Program), The Future Control of Food: free download.

(4) see
ELDIS summary of the Monterrey consensus. July 2008 summary of Promises and Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization in Latin America by Tufts University GDAE and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

See also
Urquhart's article "Speculate to annihilate" 4 June 08
Wikipedia on the food crisis and the Washington consensus
Guardian 4 July 08 and Grist 9 July 08 leak a World Bank study contradicting Bush USDA: 75% of food price hike is due to biofuel
Previous posts on food in this blog

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