Food prices revolt grows
Governments across the globe are being shaken by mass protests, as people take to the streets demanding lower food prices. According to the World Bank, increases in global wheat prices reached 181% over the 36 months leading up to February 2008, and overall global food prices increased by 83%. The UN says the price of rice has soared by 75% in just two months.
There have been strikes and protests across Africa, in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea and Mozambique. In Asia, there have been protests in India, Singapore, Philippines, and Bangladesh. In Mexico thousands have marched and people in El Salvador protested outside the state bank. This week alone:
- Protestors in Haiti marched on the presidential palace demanding a cut in food prices; five people were killed, leading to demands for the government to resign
- in Vietnam, 15,000 workers in a factory making trainers went on strike demanding better pay to cover higher food prices
- In Egypt, strikers took to the streets demanding a cut in the cost of bread.
In Europe too, droughts in Spain, France and the Po Valley last year have led to big rises in fresh food prices. With durum wheat up 30% this year, pasta is becoming a luxury product. In Britain, the cost of an average basket of groceries has risen 12% in a year.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick has warned of growing unrest if a solution is not found. And Prime Minister Brown called for food price inflation to top the agenda at the G8 summit in Japan in July. Both Zoellick and Brown called for more aid. But G8 countries are not even meeting their existing promise, made at Gleneagles in 2005, to double aid to Africa by 2010. Aid was lower in 2007 than in 2006, and in fact rich countries gave a higher proportion of their GDP in aid in 1963 than in 2007.
As for “trade not aid”, the International Monetary Fund says more than 20 African countries will see their trade balance worsen by more than 1% of GDP through having to pay more for food. The World Bank among others blames biofuels production for driving up food prices. Brown says he will review the impact of the UK’s biofuels subsidies and opposes further increases in EU subsidies. This is too little, too late. The world is now locked into profit-driven, bio-fuel production at the expense of food production. The market itself is in the driving seat.
The immediate causes of food price inflation are selling food crops at high prices for bio-fuels; switching land from food production to bio-fuels; last year’s drought in food producing areas such as Australia and Central Europe and the increasing cost of oil, leading to higher production and transportation costs.
But the underlying cause is the profit-driven system of food production at the expense of local needs. With the expansion of agri-business in the last three decades of globalisation, food dependency has increased and local systems of food production and exchange have been overturned. Now agri-business is moving into more profitable areas, creating food shortages where there could be plenty for all.
With starvation on a global scale now looming, what is needed is a strategy to wrest control of all land and natural resources from the global corporations (and the governments that support their rule). We could then combine technology with new scientific understanding of agricultural production to create systems of sustainable, dependable local food production.
In two very concise and readable books – Running a Temperature, an action plan for the eco crisis and A House of Cards: from fantasy finance to global crash, the members of A World to Win propose a programme of democratisation of both ownership and of the state as the only solution to the growing global crisis. Included in both books are radical proposals for food, agriculture and land use. We call on everyone to join us in developing these ideas further with a view to putting them into practice.
11 April 2008