Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tu veux ou tu veux pas?

"Soaring food prices, driven in part by demand for ethanol made from corn, have helped slash the amount of food aid the government buys to its lowest level in a decade, possibly resulting in more hungry people around the world this year.

The United States, the world’s dominant donor, has purchased less than half the amount of food aid this year that it did in 2000, according to new data from the Department of Agriculture.

Some advocates for the poor say rising food prices could benefit poor farmers in developing countries, providing them with markets and decent prices for their crops. But others warn that the growing use of food crops to make fuel, especially if stoked by large subsidies in rich countries, could substantially increase food prices. That could push hundreds of millions more poor people into hunger, especially landless laborers and subsistence farmers, according to a recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine. The authors were Benjamin Senauer and C. Ford Runge, food policy analysts and professors at the University of Minnesota.

Production of food crops to make biofuels will also tend to favor growers with plenty of capital and large land holdings, they say, rather than small-scale, impoverished farmers lacking modern grain storage facilities in poor countries. “The policies put in place are going to be crucial to whether the small producer and the people who live where hunger is concentrated can benefit,” Mr. Senauer said." (Thanks Rami K.)

So...What do we want? We constantly refer toUS food aid as a political tool used to control nations and to make them dependent; as a deliberate attempt to destroy local farming so that the corporations that run the food trade can benefit more, and now that they want to reduce food aid, we complain about it? The answer lies of course in how to move from a situation of dependency on food aid. This situation was created, some say, for political control on developing nations (I subscribe to this theory). Others say the purpose of food aid is to please the farmer's lobby and the shipping industry (I subscribe to this one too).

If farming systems in developing countries that are suffering from food deficiency have to be rebuilt, there will have to be commitment for that. This cannot be limited to the dumping of food, even if, as the Bush administration is said to be planning, to purchase more food locally. Of course, this plan is a publicity stunt that will never see the light, because the US farm lobby and the transport lobby do not want to lose the profits they make from producing extra food, selling it to the US government, and shipping it to the countries who need it, often too late.

While purchasing food locally may hold PART of the solution in cases of emergencies, we need to carefully plan and understand how this food is going to be produced. Is it going to be through a revival of smallholder agriculture that will benefit the developing nations through diversified food systems and sustaining livelihoods? Or is it going to be through the establishment of corporate farms on consolidated lands stolen from small farmers by government officials who enter in lucrative partnerships with food producing multinational? Is this going to be an opportunity for reviving an ailing sector and reclaiming food sovereignty, or for anchoring dependency further, this time on corporate capital rather than on foreign nations?

I'd love to believe it will help the revival of small holder farming and help in the rebuilding of rural livelihoods, as free independent farmers and not as wage labourers on their own lands.

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