Home > Planetwatch > Food for Thought – The Hunger Merchants

Food for Thought – The Hunger Merchants

During the recent World Summit on Food Security held in Rome, political leaders across the globe pledged to alleviate hunger and assist developing nations in achieving self-sufficiency in food production. However, when it came to $44 billion a year hard cash agricultural aid to achieve this solemn goal, the spirit of solidarity vanished. The summit remained high on rhetoric and non-committal in action.
Reminded me of a “Walk to end Hunger” I attended in Gurgaon. Participants were provided T-shirts and ample refreshments, TV crew and an ambulance followed the 3.5 Km jaunt by the well-to-do. Poor, hungry women and children who lived in shanties on a stretch along the way approached us begging for the bananas and soft drinks we clutched. They were mercilessly shooed away. That immediately put an end to my delusion and dalliance with corporate sponsored charity.
The world summit was attended by Pope Benedict who remarked on the tragedy of hunger and decried the “opulence and waste”. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon reminded of the 1 billion people who go hungry and later observed a 24 hour fast to express his sympathy to the cause espoused by the summit. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also launched an online campaign asking people to go on a “hunger strike against hunger”. According to FAO farming is the means of subsistence for more than 70% of the world’s poor. FAO also identified under-investment and neglect of agricultural sector as the prime reasons for food insecurity. The spate of farmer suicides India witnessed in recent times is ample proof of this fact.
The deluge of good intentions and noble speeches notwithstanding, what does reality checks reveal? Many countries while publicly vouchsafing food security and eradication of hunger are clandestinely engaged in facilitating global land grab by investments funds, large corporations and agribusinesses. The intention of the hedge funds and financial institutions buying farm land is far from philanthropic. According to their estimates, climate change and an oil crisis would drastically curtail food production and escalate food prices. Farm land, a rapidly diminishing resource, is also expected to considerably appreciate in value. The twin factors would ensure maximum returns and provide and excellent investment opportunity given the current dismal economic climate.
Such blatantly commercial interests are unlikely to exhibit concern for environment or development of the local farming communities. In all likelihood, the intense farming methods employed to maximize production and generate revenue would deplete water resources and sap the soil of nutrients rendering the land useless for further cultivation. In India, where a large population depends on agriculture for livelihood, the consequences of unscrupulous land grabs could be disastrous. Already the supermarket, fast food and agribusiness conglomerates have marginalized the small farmer, wiped out traditional farming methods and extirpated local knowledge paving way for environmental degradation and food scarcity. Farmers are forced to migrate to cities where they eke out a living working on menial jobs or begging on the streets.
Despite their dubious credentials, countries by and large are overtly committed to eradicating hunger and poverty. However, politicians and bureaucrats are easy prey to corporations wielding enormous economic and political clout. Governments, hard pressed for money to invest in agricultural reforms can be easily persuaded by lobbyists promising prosperity and rural development to dilute regulations and hand over farm land. Only an alert media and educated public can prevent such a scenario.

Gandhiji once said, “There’s enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed”. The rapaciousness displayed by unprincipled businesses in sub prime lending and other financial concoctions have already resulted in an economic meltdown. Its brand new avatar to profit from helplessness of mankind is likely to be rewarded the same way. We can only hope they would realize their folly and amend ways.

An excellent report on global land grabs can be found here: Link


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