Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rising Food Prices & Forced Migration

Rising food prices & forced migration

By Heather Cottin
Published Jul 30, 2011 6:58 AM

“Food is a right” is not just a slogan. In 1999 the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights determined that food is actually a human right. But the price of food has doubled worldwide since 2000, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The FAO publishes a monthly food price index. June 2011 figures show that food prices are 39 percent higher than in June 2010. (Business Insider, July 7) The right to eat is under attack.

The food profiteers claim that the law of supply and demand has caused the spike in food prices. Not enough supply, they claim. But world food production is greater than ever. Corn production has increased. Rice production is up 3 percent. (, May 11) This year wheat crops promise to surpass records. (Delta Farm Press, July 15)

Some capitalist apologists say that the price of wheat went up because of a bad harvest in Russia in 2010, which made the Russian government withhold wheat from the world market. In fact, the Swiss commodities firm Glencore forced the Russian government, which had sufficient wheat reserves, to impose a ban on exports. Glencore made a killing in the futures market. Wheat prices have increased by 70 percent since January 2010. But there was neither a shortfall in production nor any appreciable rise in demand. (Sri Lanka Daily News, April 23)

Corn is the mainstay of the Latin American and sub-Saharan African diets. Global corn production is up. So are corn prices. The U.S. produces almost 40 percent of the global corn supply. But this corn is not going to nourish people. It is feeding cars and industries.

The ethanol fuel industry now uses around 40 percent of corn produced in the U.S., up from around 7 percent a decade ago. (Business Insider, July 7) In the United States over the last five years, 100 percent of the increase in corn production has been for use in making ethanol fuel. (Domestic Fuel, July 18) The Obama administration has been promoting biofuels while speculators have driven up the price of corn futures by 82 percent. (, June 21)

Forced migration & small farmers

Agribusiness and “free trade” policies over the past 30 years forced farmers off their lands from Latin America to Africa, from Iowa to Ireland. Migration from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was the result of policies of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the main driving force for promoting an industrial takeover of global agriculture. (Sri Lanka Daily News, April 23)

Poor family farmers could not compete when companies like Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Ltd, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto, Nestle PepsiCo, SABMiller or Syngenta flooded the world market with low-priced grains. When the small farmers went out of business, the food giants bought up their land cheaply, and began to industrialize agriculture.

In Mexico and Central America, small farmers had their fields, growing corn and beans to feed their families. But beginning in the 1980s, they could no longer sell their surpluses, since agribusinesses had forced down the price of corn. The farmers, now displaced people, unsuccessfully sought work in the cities. Then they became forced migrants, seeking economic refuge in the United States.

African farmers suffered the same fate and ended up in Europe. Land formerly feeding people became coffee plantations and agribusiness started up flower production, while some companies in South America, Asia and Africa grew “upscale” fruits and vegetables for European and North American markets.

It was a standard capitalist trick. Drive down prices to drive people out of business, and then raise prices to clean up huge profits. It has impoverished family farmers since the beginning of capitalism, but it has never been so global in its virulence.

Rising food prices have sparked protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Malawi, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and a dozen other countries. Food prices have created greater poverty and hunger.

In Yemen, the price of bread has increased by 50 percent; flour, sugar and milk prices have risen between 40 percent and 60 percent, and the same is true for water. UNICEF finds 60 percent of Yemeni children affected by malnutrition, a figure that is higher than that found in sub-Saharan Africa. A quarter of the people in Yemen live on one meal a day. (, July 25)

Increases in food prices are creating hunger and famines that have nothing to do with drought or food shortages. This deadly situation is leading to more peoples’ resistance to governments that sit by while corporations profit and people starve.
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