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Policies for the global food crisis

The food crisis may have slipped from the headlines, but almost a billion people face starvation in 2009. Drought and high prices, along with a diversion to bio-fuels and higher costs in the West, will reduce production in most of the world's major grain producers.

A report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) this week warns that food shortages are growing. In Eastern and Southern Africa, almost 30 million people face hunger due to three years of drought caused by global warming, combined with political conflict and the market system imposed by corporate globalisation.

Half of China's winter wheat harvest has been hit by drought and India is experiencing low rainfall. In Argentina, a year-long drought has killed nearly one million animals and destroyed half the grain. It is the same in Paraguay and in Uruguay average rainfall fell by more than a third in the last twelve months.

The FAO report says that not only are the poor getting poorer, but formerly better off people are eating less. They are cutting back on education and health costs to buy food, and selling the assets they rely on for the future, such as land, tools, livestock.

Richer countries are not immune. In Australia, the coastal areas where agriculture thrived are now marginal for production, due to drought. In California a third year of drought is adding to an economic crisis that has Governor Schwarzenegger trying to balance the books with a tax increase, which the state legislature won’t pass.

California has the highest increase in unemployment and the largest number of home repossessions in the US. Things can only get worse – the melt water which is the basis of its agriculture, is coming to an end as rapid melting shrinks the mountain glaciers.

Meanwhile, the global chemical corporations continue their programme of trapping every farmer – large and small – in their net. The UN is desperately trying to win support for a new legal regime that stops patenting of crop varieties, but the powerful elites will ensure they don’t succeed.

And while drought resistant varieties are urgently needed, if developed in the current profit-driven system only the largest industrial farms will benefit. Small and medium sized farms will disappear.

However, there is another way forward. Here are some proposals:

What does everybody think? For years the system of “aid to poor countries” has failed and under the impact of global warming is collapsing altogether. The poorest in every country – even in California – are facing hunger in 2009. We have a chance to prevent it – but we need to act now.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
19 February 2009
Dylan says:

I read last Saturday in The Adbusters end of year magazine that ten million people starve to death every year. I can't get this out of my mind.

Fiona says:

These suggestions sound eminently sensible to me. Due to the economic situation and the environmental crisis also, many people are coming around to the viewpoint that growing their own food, where possible, is a practical solution to the food problem. For instance allotments are becoming extremely popular to the point that there are waiting lists in some areas for allocation of land for that purpose. So the system of agriculture and food production described above will I am sure win a ready acceptance. People are turning back to the land with a kind of pioneering spirit these days. Although perhaps not yet in quite sufficiant numbers.

Dylan says:

I think - apart from corrupt Governments - the corporations are largely responsible for starvation, climate change and the financial crisis. They must be stopped now.

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