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The Politics of Food

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:44 pm
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This polarization of prices is another mystery in the globalized, industrialized food system. The more farmers earn less, the more the poor pay for food, because the farmers don’t get the money. Somewhere in the middle it’s disappearing. My assessment is at this point farmers are not even earning 1 percent, they’re earning negative incomes. That’s what we have to turn around with local initiatives, wherever we are, to create a fair agriculture, a just agriculture, a sustainable agriculture. And a sustainable and just agriculture is the same kind of agriculture that protects our biodiversity and produces more food.

That’s the most important issue to remember. By practicing sustainability, we are not producing less, we are producing more. We just have to count in a different way. We have to get rid of our monoculture blinkers and bring biodiversity into our lens. We have to be able to count biodiversity and the benefits of biodiversity. Biodiverse systems produce more biodiversity. And we need more biodiversity both for sustainability, because it’s the biodiversity that produces the alternatives to toxins and fossil fuels. It’s the biodiversity that allows you to control pests. It’s the biodiversity that gives you the manures. Whether it’s green manures or compost, et cetera, it’s the biodiversity that allows you to do a better job of controlling weeds and pests, and bringing back soil fertility.

The health bomb
Biodiversity is also the basis of health. There are nutritional studies around the world now showing that the biodiverse diet is the place where the health crisis will be solved. We have currently, out of this industrialized, globalized system, a dual health crisis. I call it the health bomb. The first is malnutrition, the people who are hungry, a billion now permanently hungry. And something that’s not usually noticed—the fact that the hungry people today are the producers of food. The hungry people earlier used to be urban poor. Today the hungry people are growers of rice who have used chemicals to grow rice, who have taken on debt, have to sell the rice to pay back the credit, and starve themselves. Also because of that polarization of prices, when the farmer sells, he sells at a quarter the price of what he has to pay to buy that same rice back to feed, usually again on debt. The billion people hungry today are hungry because either they have been trapped in this high-external-input agriculture that creates debt or because they’ve been removed from their land.

The grabbing of farmers’ lands for creating special economic zones is the top political crisis of India today. These are foreign territories within India to be able to supply cheap products to the Wal-Marts because there will be no labor laws, no taxes, energy will be free, water will be free. Farmers are saying, “But we don’t want to give our land.” I call it the big land grab. But when you have less fertile land and you have fewer farmers to produce food, you can have the illusion of pseudosurpluses but you actually have real scarcity, too.

And on real scarcity, I want to just mention, there is at this point an assumption that we have a huge amount of food. But we have a huge amount of soybean, we have a huge amount of corn. It’s so much that most of it is going to feed animals in factory farms. And now, when we’re running out of fossil fuel, they’re saying we’ll use it to run our cars. It’s not the way that hunger will be solved. Hunger will be solved by having enough food in every ecosystem, in every community, and having large enough numbers to grow that food.

We’re often given the example of the US as the ultimate model, where less than 2 percent of people feed the world. First of all, it’s not just that 2 percent that’s feeding this country. It’s the peasants in Latin America, Africa, Asia who are providing food to you. This is always forgotten. You are providing forced trade, like the wheat imports to India. And that’s because US foreign policy decided long ago, from the Vietnam War days, that food would be used as a weapon. The use of food as a weapon means the cereals are kept under control, but for everything else you are importing. You are importing your fruits, you are importing your vegetables. And if you really did the sums of your food basket, the US is a hugely food-dependent country. But there is this illusion that it’s a food surplus country.

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