Food crisis a crisis of capitalism

by Aug 1, 2011All Articles

AMANDLA ISSUE 2 | EDITORIAL : This issue of Amandla! focuses on the food crisis gripping most parts of the world. This comes close on the heels of the financial and energy crises that Amandla! has previously focused on. However, when one considers the numbers, at least from one side of the equation, we can ask, food crisis ñ what crisis?

Monsanto, makers of seeds and herbicides saw its profits more than double in the first quarter of 2008, grain trader Cargillís net earnings up 86% while Deere, manufactures of agricultural equipment, posted a 55% increase in earnings. South African company Tiger Brands, a major grain-processing company found guilty in the bread price-fixing scandal, reported pre-tax profits of R2.4 billion in 2006. Food retailer Pick ín Pay recorded a turnover for the second half of 2007 of R21 billion. Furthermore, study after study indicates that global food production grows faster than population growth. According to the Food First Institute, abundance not scarcity best describes the supply of food in the world today. So, there is no food crisis. What there is, is a crisis of capital, with the commodification of food being amongst the most inhumane consequence of a system whose hallmark is placing profits before people.
Global capitalism has dominated food production and impacted on food markets, like it does every facet of life in capitalist society. Driving this process has been the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and most importantly the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ñ a powerful global institution in the hands of the richest and most industrialised  powers and their ruling classes. Under the WTO a dual system of agriculture and food production has been created: liberalised markets in the South dominated by subsidised food producers and transnational corporations from the North. Apart from speculation in the futures markets, trade liberalisation ala the WTO lies behind the global corporations that are profiting from hunger.

Their role has become most marked with escalating grain and rice prices. Head of the UN World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, believes that an additional 100 million people can no longer afford to purchase food.While supporters of the system point to the market ëcorrecting itselfí, the newly hungry wonít wait till then. ëA hungry man (is indeed) an angry maní, and this Marleyism has been proven in over 40 countries where food protests have taken place. In Egypt the price hikes sparked one of the largest strikes in that country (see Amandla! No.1, 2008). In Johannesburg, social movements marched on government offices and COSATU is mobilising workers to address the issue of food price spikes. Sensing the anger simmering below the surface the recent Tripartite Alliance Summit resolved to ëcriminalise collusive Ö price fixing in the food sectorí, remove VAT on basic foods, revamp the school feeding scheme, introduce food subsidies for the poor, and radically speed up land and agrarian reform.

The absurdity of the food crisis is indeed of biblical proportions as it is felt from the over-resourced West to the poverty-stricken hinterlands of East Asia and Africa, and is another demonstration of capitalismís irrationality. In the nation that taught the world to ësuper-sizeí its meals (the US), 35 million Americans suffered from food-insecurity last year. In India, surplus wheat rots as the market ëadjustsí or produce is misallocated. The United Nation estimates that 1 billion people in the world today suffer hunger. The crime is that while we live in the most economically and technologically resourced period in history, huge numbers of people go hungry. The articles that form part of our focus on the food crisis draw out these issues in greater depth.

This issue of Amandla! covers a number of other issues including that of water. Amandla! wishes to add its voice to the many that have celebrated the historic and ground-breaking judgement that declared the City of Johannesburgís forcible installation of prepaid water meters in Phiri unlawful and unconstitutional. The decision by the judge in this case that the authorities must supply Phiri residents with 50 litres per person per day can have far-reaching significance for water struggles not just in SA but in other parts of the world where neo-liberalism rolls back peopleís fundamental rights.

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