They are profiting from the hunger of millions

Hunger hovers over dozens of countries, while inflation destroys wages. The summit of the FAO in Rome took place in this context between June 3 and 5. If it depends on them, the worst is about to come. The only solution is in the hands of the working class and the impoverished masses.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is an organization of the UN devoted to agriculture and food, to “help to build a world without hunger.” The FAO Summit in Rome brought together dozens of Presidents, Heads of State and Ministers, together with front-line officials of such benign organizations as the World Bank. The obscurantist Pope Ratzinger was also present, and the building where the sessions took place was protected by thousands of police, who contributed the appropriate repressive contingent to the event. Cristina Kirchner and Lula Da Silva were also prominent figures.

It was called in the face of the tremendous food crisis and the outbreaks of hunger in dozens of countries throughout the world, unleashed by enormous inflation that affects the so- called “commodities” that are fundamentally fuels, raw materials and food. In the case of fuels, in scarcely 3 years, a barrel of oil shot up from $44 to $130 (more than 200%). The impact of this product, a pillar of the world economy, has been enormous in increasing the cost of production and freight. In the same period, food increased a total of 83%. Among foods, the products that are the nutritional basis for hundreds of millions of inhabitants the world over, increased the most: rice, corn [maize], and wheat rose 180% during the same period. According to the FAO itself, more than 37 countries are at risk of social instability because there is a shortage of food, with more than 800 million people suffering this scourge.

The real causes of hunger

This is the concrete sign of the poor health of the world economy: strong inflationary pressure, fundamentally caused by the movement of big amounts of speculative capital to the commodity futures markets (where stocks are purchased in advance) that function as a bubble increasing the prices of grains and fuels and the profits of the capitalists.

That is how the imperialist octopi in agriculture and food are now making more than ever, while hunger and inflation devastate the world. In the food crisis so far, Monsanto’s profits have increased by 100%, those of Cargill, by 86%, and it could continue like that. To this must be added the strong pressure that biofuels production is creating. Although Lula “the progressive” has insisted on denying it, it is a fact that the exponential increase in biofuel production, has become another driving force in the increase in prices of food. In many cases, it is now becoming more profitable to set aside corn [maize] to produce ethanol, than to feed the population. In 2007, the US diverted 54 million tons to produce the “green” fuel. This year, that number will increase to 76 million tons, and next year it will exceed 100 million tons. In Mexico, the price increase for the tortilla, the basis for the nutrition of tens of millions in that country, was directly connected to this situation.

The response of the FAO

Faced with the alarming reality of hunger, the Summit was rich in “denunciations” and “criticisms” of the terrible scourge that has fallen on millions, as well as “requests for help” to alleviate it. But when we go to the solutions these ladies and gentlemen have taken to solve the crisis, all their speeches only “nourish” cynicism and hypocrisy on their part, and anger on ours.

Among the resolutions is “increasing food production” and “eliminating obstacles to international trade.” Both things will only increase the problem of hunger, adding a big ecological impact because of the extension of the agricultural frontier over forests and jungles, and increase the profits of the big agricultural monopolies still further. Although the increase in demand from China and other countries has been very large, it is not true that the present situation is owing to a “crisis in supply,” to an impossibility of satisfying the demand for food. In the last 30 years, world production has tripled while the population has only doubled. Today 17% more calories are produced on the world scale than formerly, in spite of the increase in population. The problem is that more money is constantly needed to buy food, and the poor find themselves forced to consume less or are directly turned over to public assistance.

This too is a consequence of growing monopoly concentration. Five “agrobusiness” world giants now hold 80% of the food market and receive US and European state subsidies of many millions of dollars. In this way, local grain production by small producers in the countries of Latin America or Africa, that find themselves forced to accept terms and conditions from those octopi, thirsty for bigger profits, tends to be ruined.

In this context, the speech by Ban Ki-moon that “it is necessary to raise global production 50% by 2050,” becomes an excuse for promoting “modernization” of agricultural production of hundreds of thousands of rural small producers in the world, which only means transforming those producers into hostages of the big monopolies that control the seeds, agricultural chemicals and (extremely contaminating) production methods, and that they will impose prices and conditions on those producers. This in spite of the fact that in some places and sectors, they may be benefiting at the moment from high prices, as is happening in Argentina. The calls to remove the restrictions on “international trade” are going in the same direction. It is a question of food-producing countries becoming dependent on the monopolies, as already happened in Haiti or Rwanda during the neo-liberal offensive of the 1990s.

The only solution is in the hands of the toiling classes

Finally, the document from the Summit did not constitute a commitment for anyone, since, as we have seen, they are not interested in solving the problem, but in taking advantage of the crisis to increase capitalist profits. Meanwhile, in addition, differences arose between the imperialist countries together with Brazil, that did not accept any responsibility for the fervent production of biofuels during the food crisis, and some other food- producing countries. In the final declaration, both the US and the European Union flatly refused any mention of the millions of dollars in subsidies that they give their producers and that prevent food produced in poor countries from being competitive. For its part, Argentina was unable to agree to a declaration that included [removing] “restrictions” on trade, which could be interpreted as contrary to the local policy of holding back exports.

Only the working class, together with impoverished rural small producers and the millions of rural workers, can give a progressive solution to the crisis. In the imperialist centers, like the US and Europe, it is necessary to expropriate the big agrobusiness monopolies. In food-producing countries like Argentina, the landowners must be expropriated and the land distributed among small, poor rural producers that work it, and the business of commercialization must be seized from the imperialist multinationals, by establishing the monopoly of foreign trade. Only on this basis, by attacking the interests of national and foreign capitalists, can production and distribution of food be planned and put at the service of the great masses the world over.

Translation by Yosef M.


About author

Diego Dalai

Diego Dalai

Diego is an international editor at our sister site in Argentina, La Izquierda Diario.