World Food & Water: How Agribusiness Keeps Us “Betting on Famine”

Published on Axis of Logic, by Alex Park/Mother Jones, April 28, 2014.

(Editorial comment: The French title of Jean Ziegler’s latest book translates literally as ‘Mass Destruction – the Geopolitics of Hunger’. When I translated the article by Édouard MARET (Hunger can be overcome, according to Jean Ziegler), the title in English as it is now, was already posted. His last few books had not found a publisher or a translator into English, which I have guessed may be due to titles like ‘The Empire of Shame’ and ‘Hatred of the West’, concepts hard to face in the western world. Those two, and others, are magnificent books that give us the inside view of what is going on in the world with more or less planned and calculated starvation of the poor and the takeover of the entire world by the Corporate giants).  

The speculation on food commodities, the cold betting on which way prices are going to move, may be one of the most horrendous aspects of the situation we are now in. The speculators rake in billions and food prices increase to the point where poor people can no longer afford to eat. Added to this, big agribusiness has also taken the land away from the small farmers who used to grow their own food and be fairly independent of Big Business – SON

Jean Ziegler, the former Special Rapporteur for Food for the United Nations, begins his new book with two disturbing statistics. “In its current state, the global agricultural system would in fact, without any difficulty, be capable of feeding 12 billion people, or twice the world’s current population,” he writes. And yet, “every five seconds, a child under the age of ten dies of hunger.”

In Betting on Famine: Why the World Still Goes Hungry, out on August 6, Ziegler explores the disconnect between resources and the people in need of them. He tours readers around indebted countries that have transformed their agricultural base into export industries, forfeiting the ability to feed themselves. Haiti, for instance, could thirty years ago grow enough rice to feed its people, but after lowering barriers to imported rice at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, it wrecked local rice production to the point that now it must spend 80 percent of its revenue on imported food.

Ziegler shows us how starvation in places like Haiti, Ethiopia, and India can be traced back in no small part to those titans of global commerce who insist that freedom of trade is essential, but freedom from hunger is not. As market solutions have been pushed as the cure-all for poverty and hunger, the world’s poor now swim in the same tank as predatory sharks: financial speculators who deliberately drive up the price of food to make exponential profits.

Elsewhere in the world, agribusiness companies like South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics and the French conglomerate Vilgrain, sometimes backed by private equity and sovereign wealth funds, have started to acquire their own land in poor countries to grow food and biofuels, often for export. Sometimes these companies simply hold onto the land until they can resell it for a higher price—which can further diminish a country’s ability to feed itself.

At the front gate of one massive farm in West Africa, Ziegler describes his encounter with an employee of the foreign company that owns it. As Ziegler recounts, the company’s lease was tax-exempt for 99 years. When asked about this arrangement, the young technician became defensive:

–”We don’t pay taxes? That’s not true! We employ young people from the villages. The Senegalese government collects taxes on their incomes.”

Ziegler’s outrage is hardly reserved for the mid-level employees of agribusiness, however. Throughout the book, he puts his disgust for the leaders of global commerce on full display for the world. Hunger, he says, is “in no way inevitable. Every child who starves to death is murdered” … //

… (full text).


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