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The hunger killing deal

The hunger killing deal


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By GRAIN

"It is necessary to radically change food policy," says the organization GRAIN. "For several months, a real storm due to the rise in the cost of food around the world" has been unleashed. In some countries, governments are already turning to peasant organizations to work with them in reformulating their agricultural policies. Others are beginning to question the fundamental argument of pushing for greater free trade.

It is necessary to radically change food policy NOW!


For several months, a true storm due to the rise in the cost of food around the world has hit families, governments and the media. The price of wheat increased 130% in the last year. [1] Rice prices doubled in Asia in the past three months alone [2] while hitting record gains in the Chicago futures market just a week ago. [3] The spiraling increase in the cost of edible oil, fruit and vegetables, not to mention dairy and meat, has led to a decline in their consumption throughout most of 2007. From Haiti to Cameroon, via Bangladesh , people have taken to the streets out of anger that they can no longer buy food. World leaders are calling for more food aid in fear of political upheaval, as well as more funds and technology to increase agricultural production. Meanwhile, grain-exporting countries close their borders to protect their domestic markets, while others are forced to buy due to shortage panic. Price boom? No. Food shortage? Neither. We are in the middle of a structural collapse, a direct consequence of three decades of neoliberal globalization.

The agricultural sector had a world record production of 2.3 billion tons of grain in 2007, 4% more than the previous year. Since 1961, world cereal production has tripled, while population has doubled. It is true that reserves are at the lowest level in the last 30 years. [4] But, in short, enough food is produced in the world. However, it does not reach those who need it. People directly consume less than half of the world's grain production. Most of that production is used for animal consumption and increasingly for biofuels through large-scale industrial chains. In fact, once through the cold curtain of statistics, it is possible to realize that something is fundamentally wrong with our food system. We have allowed food to be transformed from something that feeds people and ensures their sustenance, into a simple commodity for speculation and business. The perverse logic of this system has reached a critical point. It is obvious how it benefits investors over people's food needs.

The realities of the market

The promoters of the policies that have shaped the current world food system - and who are supposedly responsible for preventing such catastrophes - have offered a series of explanations for the current crisis that everyone has heard over and over again: the drought and other problems that affect crops, increased demand in China and India where people are apparently eating more and better, crops and land that are massively reconverted to the production of agrofuels, and other explanations. Add to this the performance of speculators who inflate prices, which is also the subject of further investigation. All of these issues obviously contribute to the current food crisis. But they are not fully responsible for its depth. There is something more important behind it. Something that unites all these issues and that the priests of the world of finance and development are keeping out of public discussion.

Nothing that the nerds formulated by policies should obscure the fact that the current food crisis is the result of permanent pressure exerted since the 1960s towards the “Green Revolution” agricultural model, and of trade liberalization and structural adjustment policies imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund since the 1970s. These policy prescriptions were reinforced in the mid-1990s with the establishment of the World Trade Organization and, more recently, through of a bundle of bi-lateral free trade and investment agreements. Along with a whole package of other measures, they have ruthlessly dismantled the tariffs and other instruments that developing countries had to protect their local agricultural production, and forced them to open their markets and lands to global agribusinesses, speculators and subsidized food exports from rich countries. In this process, the fertile lands were converted from the production of food to supply a local market to the production of commodities worldwide for export or high-value, off-season crops to supply western supermarkets. Today, about 70% of so-called developing countries are net food importers. [5] And of the 845 million hungry people in the world, 80% are small farmers. [6] If to this is added the readjustment of credit and financial markets to create a huge debt industry, with no control over investors, the seriousness of the problem is clear.

Agricultural policy has totally lost touch with its most fundamental objective of feeding the people. Hunger hurts and people are desperate. The United Nations World Food Program estimates that there are an additional 100 million people unable to eat due to the recent spectacular price hike [7] This has governments frantically searching for ways to protect themselves from the system. The lucky ones with stocks to export are withdrawing from the world market to separate their domestic prices from astronomical international prices. In the case of wheat, the export ban or the restrictions applied in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Argentina, means that a third of the world market has been closed. The situation with rice is even worse. China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, India and Cambodia have banned or severely restricted exports, leaving a few sources of supply for export, mainly Thailand and the United States. Countries like Bangladesh cannot even buy the rice they need today because of its high price. After the World Bank and the IMF advised countries for years that a liberalized market would bring them greater efficiency in the production and distribution of food, the poorest countries in the world are immersed in an intense bid against speculators and traders, who they are living a true boom time. Hedge funds and other sources of hedge funds are pouring millions of dollars into commodities, to escape slippery stock markets and credit crunch; thereby further pushing food stocks out of reach of the poor. [8]

According to some estimates, mutual funds now control between 50% and 60% of the wheat traded in the world's largest markets for commodities. [9] A company estimates that the amount of hot money in futures of commodities –Markets where investors do not buy or sell a commodity tangible, such as rice or wheat, but instead bet on price variations - it was less than $ 5 billion in 2000 and climbed to $ 175 billion in 2007. [10]

This situation is not accidental - and its effects are unsustainable. Look at Haiti. A few decades ago it was self-sufficient in rice. But the conditions on foreign loans, particularly a 1994 IMF program, forced him to liberalize his market. Thus, cheap rice began to arrive from the United States, supported by subsidies and corruption, and local production was eradicated. [11] Now rice prices are up 50% from last year, and the average Haitian can't eat it. For this reason they are taking to the streets or risking their lives on a boat trip to the United States. Protests over the food crisis have also erupted in West Africa, from Mauritania to Burkina Faso. There, too, the structural adjustment programs and the dumping of food aid destroyed a long history of rice production in the region, leaving people at the mercy of the international market. In Asia, the World Bank repeatedly assured the Philippines, even up until last year, that self-sufficiency in rice was unnecessary, and that the world market would take care of its needs. [12] The government is currently in dire straits. The national reserves of subsidized rice are practically depleted and it cannot complete its import payments because the prices requested by traders are too high.

Hunger as murder

Never before has the stark truth about who wins and who loses in our global food system been so obvious. Let's look at the most basic element of food production: land. Arguably, the industrial food system suffers from a drug dependence on chemical fertilizers. It needs more and more to stay alive, eroding soils at the cost of destroying their potential to support food crops. Between 1992 and 2003, fertilizer use increased by 3% per year in the Asia-Pacific region, while, as a result, the yield of the main crop to which they were applied, rice, only grew by 0.7% per year. In the current context of tight food stocks, the small clique of companies that control the global fertilizer market can charge whatever they want - and that is exactly what they are doing. Profits for Mosaic Corporation, a Cargill company that controls much of the potash and phosphate supply, more than doubled last year. [13] The world's largest potash producer, Canada's Potash Crop, made more than $ 1 billion in profit, which is more than 70% from 2006. [14] Facing the panic of the In the global crisis, governments have become desperate to increase their harvests, giving these companies the power to raise the stakes even further. In April 2008, the commercial subsidiary offshore The Mosaic and Potash joint venture increased potash prices by 40% for buyers from Southeast Asia and by 85% for buyers from Latin America. India had to pay 130% more than last year. But it was China that took the worst of it, hit with a 227% rise in its fertilizer bill from the previous year. [fifteen]

Table 1. Increase in earnings of some of the world's leading fertilizer companies

Company2007 Profits (US $) in millionsIncrease compared to 2006
Potash Corp (Canada)$1.10072 %
Yara (Norway)$1.11644 %
Sinochem (China)$1.10095 %
Mosaic (USA)$ 708141 %
ICL (Israel)$ 53543 %
K + S (Germany)$ 4202,8 %

While a lot of money is being made from fertilizers, for Cargill it is just a side business. Their biggest profits come from the world trade in commodities agriculture, which it largely monopolizes along with some other giant companies. On April 14, 2008, Cargill announced that the profits it had made from trading commodities in the first quarter of 2008 they increased 86% compared to the same period of the previous year. “Demand for food in developing economies and for energy around the world is increasing demand for agricultural products, while investment has focused on markets for commodities”Stated Greg Page, Cargill president and one of its top executives. " Price increases are hitting new records and markets are extraordinarily volatile. In this context, the Cargill team has done an exceptional job measuring and assessing price risk and managing the enormous volume of grains, oilseeds and other commodities circulating through our supply chains for customers around the world”. [16]

Table 2. Increase in earnings of some of the world's leading grain traders

Company

Profits 2007 (US $)

in millions

Increase compared to 2006
Cargill (USA)$ 2.34036%
ADM (USA)$ 2.20067%
ConAgra (USA)$ 76430%
Bunge (USA)$ 73849%
Noble Group (Singapore)$ 25892%
Marubeni (Japan)$ 90*43%*

Not on this list is Louis Dreyfus (France), a private trader of agricultural commodities, with annual sales exceeding US $ 22 billion, who does not provide information about his earnings.

* Data is only from the Agri-Maine section of Marubeni

Management and evaluation are not that difficult for a company like Cargill, with its near-monopoly position and a global team of analysts the size of a United Nations agency. In reality, all the big grain traders are making record profits. Bunge, another large food trader, in the last fiscal quarter of 2007 saw its earnings increase by $ 245 million, or 77%, over the same period the previous year. ADM, the world's second largest grain trader, saw its 2007 profit increase 65%, reaching a record $ 2.2 billion. Charoen Pokphand Foods from Thailand is a major Asian company; for this year he announces an impressive increase in his income, which he calculates at 237%.

The large global food processing firms, some of which are also active in marketing, are also filling their pockets. Nestlé's worldwide sales grew 7% last year. " We saw it coming, so we protected ourselves by buying raw materials in advance”Says François-Xavier Perroud, a Nestlé spokesperson. [17] Margins are rising at Unilever too. " The pressures on commodities They have increased radically, but we have managed to compensate them with price measures adopted in a timely manner and with the permanent revenues that our savings programs have given us.”Says Patrick Cescau, a member of the Unilever Board of Directors. “We will not sacrifice our margins or our market share”. [18] Food companies do not appear to be getting their cut at the expense of large retail companies. UK supermarkets king Tesco says its profits were up 12.3% over the previous year, a record high. Other major stores, such as Carrefour in France and Wal-Mart in the United States, say that food sales are the main factor contributing to their increased profits. [19] Wal-Mart's Mexican division, Wal-Mex, which handles one-third of total food sales in Mexico, reported an 11% increase in its profits for the first quarter of 2008, as people demonstrate street because you can't afford tortillas anymore. [twenty]

It appears that almost every business player in the global food chain is making a fortune from the food crisis. Seed and agrochemical companies are also doing well. Monsanto, the world's largest seed firm, stated that overall profits increased 44% in 2007 from the previous year. [21] DuPont, the world's number two seed company, said its 2007 seed sales increased 19% over 2006, while Syngenta, the number one pesticide and number three seed company, posted a 28% more profit in the first quarter of 2008. [22]

Those earnings records have nothing to do with any new value those companies are producing, and they are not windfall gains received from some sudden change in supply and demand. It is a reflection of the extreme power that these intermediaries have accumulated with the globalization of the food system. Intimately linked with the formulation of the trade rules that govern today's food system and with tight control of the increasingly complex markets and financial systems through which world trade operates, these companies are in a perfect position to turn food shortages into huge profits. People have to eat, whatever the cost.

The urgent need to change policies


The backdrop to this perverse food market situation is the global financial system, which is currently teetering on its flimsy axis. What began last year as a localized mortgage loan crisis in the United States has now manifested itself in a situation where the realization has emerged that the emperors of the global financial system have no clothes. The world economy lives on a debt that no one can pay. As central bankers and Lear Jet executives try to improvise patches to reverse mistrust, the subliminal message is that the system is bankrupt and no one in power wants to take the reins. Neither the IMF, nor the World Bank, and the Group of 8 in June will not expect much more than the tinsel of public relations. It's the same thing with food: an ideological elite has forced our countries to drastically open markets and let the free market rule, so that a few mega-companies, investors, and speculators can make a lot of money. Neoliberalism, accompanied by the rampant corruption that plagues our countries and trading systems, has lost all trace of legitimacy as it has wreaked havoc at the very center of our most basic needs: the ability to feed ourselves. The most aberrant example of how misplaced these ideologues are is that many are beginning to openly call for greater trade liberalization as a solution to the food crisis, even going as far as proposing that WTO rules be changed to prevent countries from imposing restrictions on food exports. [2. 3]

The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, tried to convince the world with his exhortation to establish a “New Deal” to solve the food crisis. But the sing-song of their public relations, enthusiastically replicated by other agencies, represents just more of the same: more trade liberalization, more technology and more aid. The current food crisis is the direct product of decades of the kinds of policies that we must now eradicate. While immediate action is needed to lower food prices and get food to those who need it, a radical shift in agricultural policy is also imperative so that smallholders around the world have access to land and can live on what it gives them. We need policies that support and protect farmers, fishermen and other sectors that produce food for their families, for local markets and for people in cities, rather than a market of commodities abstract international and a tiny clan of business executives. And we need to strengthen and promote the use of technologies based on the knowledge and control of those who know how to grow food: local communities. In other words, we need food sovereignty, now - the kind that small farmers and fishermen themselves define and run.

All over the world there have been social movements that have been fighting for decades to promote this change in strategy; but in response they have been ignored and labeled obsolete - when not often violently repressed - by those in power. If there is any glimmer of hope in this crisis, it is that this situation can be reversed. Others are beginning to question the fundamental argument of pushing for greater free trade. The neoliberal hawks at the top of the pyramid of world food policy have lost the credibility that they somehow may have once had. It is time for them to get out of the way so that the visions of food sovereignty and agrarian reform, which emerge from the grassroots, can take their place and get us out of this infernal mess. Www.ecoportal.net

GRAIN: http://www.grain.org/publications/

For more information:

* FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). World food situation. In: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/inicio.html?L=2

* Financial Times. "The global food crisis", intercative map, updated to April 21, 2008. In: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d8184634-77cc-11dd-a922-0000779fd2ac.html

* Confédération Paysanne, "Les révoltes de la faim dans les pays du Sud: l'aboutissement logique de choix économiques et politiques désastreux", Press release, April 18, 2008, at: http://www.confederationpaysanne.fr/ revoltes_id = 1259

* "UNCTAD official blames food crisis on structural adjustment program", This Day, Lagos, April 23, 2008, at: http://allafrica.com/stories/200804230375.html

* On food sovereignty: http://www.viacampesina.org and http://www.nyeleni2007.org

* On agrofuels: number 53 of Biodiversity, GRAIN, July 2007, at: http://www.grain.org/biodiversidad/?type=39

References:

[1] Bloomberg, cited by the BBC, London, April 14, 2008. In: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7344892.stm

[2] “Action to meet Asian rice crisis”, BBC, London, April 17, 2008. In: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7352038.stm

[3] For daily reports: http://www.riceonline.com As there are many Asian rice exporters out of the game, needy countries in Asia and Africa are turning to the US market where prices are In the clouds.

[4] Brian Halweil, "Grain harvest sets record, but supplies still tight", Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C. At: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5539

[5] Katarina Wahlberg, “Are we approaching a global food crisis?”, World Economy & Development in Brief, Global Policy Forum, March 3, 2008. In:
http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/hunger/general/2008/0303foodcrisis.htm

[6] Interview with a food policy expert, Radio France International, Paris, April 20, 2008.

[7] "UN: inflation in staple foods", BBC, London, April 22, 2008, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/spanish/business/newssid_7281000/7281972.stm

[8] Sinclair Stewart and Paul Waldie, "US food producers, speculators square off", Globe and Mail, Toronto, April 23, 2008, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080423 .RCFTC23 / TPStory / Business

[9] Ibid. "Why grocery prices are set to soar", Globe and Mail, Toronto, April 24, 2008, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/wfood25/BNStory/National/home

[10] Paul Waldie, "Why grocery prices are set to soar", op cit

[11] Bill Quigley, “USA role in Haiti hunger riots”, Znet, US, April 23, 2008, at: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17233

[12] World Bank, “Can the world market for rice be trusted”, Box 1 on p. 52 from: "Philippines: Agriculture Public Expenditure Review," Technical Paper, World Bank, Washington. D.C., 2007: At: http://go.worldbank.org/TGRSK19300

[13] Postase and phosphates are two of the main ingredients in chemical fertilizers.

[14] David Ebner, "Saskatchewan: A lot more than wheat," Globe and Mail, Toronto, April 11, 2008, at:
http://ago.mobile.globeandmail.com/20080411/wrcover12.html

[15] John Partridge and Andy Hoffman, “China deal sends Potash soaring,” Globe and Mail, Toronto, April 17, 2008, at: http://ago.mobile.globeandmail.com/wrpotash17.html

[16] “Cargill income up sharply in third quarter,” World Grain, Kansas, April 14, 2008, at: http://www.worldgrain.com/news/headline_stories.asp?ArticleID=92706

[17] "Tightening belts", The Economist, London, April 10, 2008.

[18] Jonathan Sibun, "Unilever profits surge despite price pressures", The Telegraph, London, November 3, 2007, and, “Get set for more price hikes: Unilever chief”, Business Standard, India, March 16, 2008.

[19] Foo Yun Chee, “Major European retailers post higher profits for 2007”, Reuters, March 6, 2008, at: www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/06/business/RETAIL.php

[20] Associated Press, "Wal-Mart de Mexico's 1Q profits rise 11 percent on higher sales, cost controls", April 8, 2008, at: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/04 /08/Mexico-Wal-Mart.php

[21] Monsanto Company, Annual Report, 2007.

[22] DuPont, Annual Report 2007, and "Syngenta announces business figure in progression 28 percent first quarter", EFE, April 22, 2008, in:
http://actualidad.terra.es/nacional/articulo/2416088.htm

[23] Isabel Reynolds, "WTO should pressure food exporters - Mandelson", Reuters, April 23, 2008, at: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/T293221.htm


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