By Tatiana Roa Avendaño
Some years ago, large tracts of land that used to be used for the production of food for humans were displaced to produce food for animals or to generate agrofuels. At the bottom of all this lies the imposed development pattern, which has caused a profound alteration of cycles and central elements of nature such as climate, water or biodiversity.
At the beginning of 2008 no one dared to deny it, alongside other crises, humanity was also suffering a food crisis. It was not for less, every time large masses of the population spend the day with a single meal, the levels of undernourishment grow, food prices are through the roof, food production is used for other purposes.
Some years ago, large tracts of land that used to be used for the production of food for humans were displaced to produce food for animals or to generate agrofuels. In addition, accelerated urbanization processes cover nutrient-rich soils that previously produced food with asphalt and cement.
At the bottom of all this lies the imposed development pattern, which has caused a profound alteration of cycles and central elements of nature such as climate, water or biodiversity. We are facing an agri-food economic bubble (1), soil deterioration is increasing, aquifers are depleting, desertification is advancing and climatic cycles are altered without allowing farmers to clearly define their sowing times. "The intense alteration of ecological cycles points to a systemic overflow of the vital limits of the biosphere, with a profound impact on the living conditions of large sectors of the world population" (2).
Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO for its acronym in English) indicate that the number of people suffering from chronic hunger is increasing “in 2007 it increased by 75 million, much by above the estimate […] of 848 million undernourished people in 2003-05 ”(3). According to data from the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Bank (WB), 100 million people lack enough food to guarantee their survival (4), Asia and the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa are the regions that have hungry in the world, in 2003-05, together they accounted for 89% of the hungry people in the world, that is to say 750 million people.
Since the beginning of this decade, the price of food began a strong increase, reaching its peak in mid-2008, and continues to show no signs of significant decline. There is a sustained increase in the prices of staple foods, and although world cereal stocks increased in the years 2004-2005, they decreased in the following period, as demand increased more than production. Between January 2005-2006 and June 2008, corn prices nearly tripled, wheat prices increased 127 percent and rice prices 170 percent.
Following the trend of cereal prices, the prices of fats and oil began to rise in mid-2006, the same happened with seeds for oilseed crops, which between 2004-2005 was higher than 13 percent the previous year . The prices of other foods, such as sugar, citrus fruits, bananas, shrimp and meats, increased by 48 percent from January 2005 to June 2008 (Mitchell, 2008: 3).
The acute humanitarian situation resulting from the food crisis has sparked a wave of protests around the planet. It started in Mexico in 2007, with the tortilla war, months later, in 2008, the spaghetti strike occurred in Italy. During this last year the protests range from Egypt to Bangladesh, from Haiti to Yemen, from Senegal to Thailand. The crisis echoed across the globe. The voices of millions of workers, peasants, people from urban and rural populations have denounced that with their precarious income they are unable to cover their basic food needs. The poorest people use more than 70% for the purchase of basic products. In the protests, they also demand their governments for measures to address the food and rural situation.
Three decades had passed with a rather downward trend in food prices. Since the oil crises of 1973 and 1982, the world had not seen such a strong increase. The curious thing is that in recent decades there has been a significant growth in food production, this is how, since 1961, the population doubled while food production grew three times. Still, the hungry continue to increase and humanity is experiencing a food crisis of dramatic proportions, a true humanitarian tragedy.
The food crisis is also a development crisis, as UNCTAD puts it: “But beyond its immediate humanitarian dimensions, it is also a crisis of global development policy. This is in itself a tragedy, especially at a time when the new generation of globalization has brought great benefits for many (5) "
This document will seek to establish the relationships between agriculture, food production and development. It will aim to develop the causes that have precipitated the crisis and the elements that articulate the food crisis with the development policies imposed during the last decades, it will end with a reflection on what could happen if radical decisions are not made that transform the current trend.
Agriculture, food and development
It is not possible to understand the rise of civilizations without understanding the role that agriculture has played in humanity. Some 14,000 years ago, the process of domestication of some plant species began.
For the first time, humans were able to influence the availability of food. With the rise of agriculture, humanity suffers a crucial impact. The consequences of this discovery were shocking, the collecting and nomadic peoples were transformed into sedentary peasants, the first villages appear. Agricultural activity was predominant for economies for thousands of years until the industrial revolution that led to urbanization processes and exodus to cities. Before this and during most of humanity's existence, the peoples, and mainly those linked to the earth, had had an attitude of gratitude and reverence towards nature, for she was the provider of life and food.
However, from the industrial revolution that began in the 18th century, a break occurred that would cause a profound transformation on the planet. At such a moment, an unstoppable expansion and growth of cities and industrialization of the countryside begins. To the extent that societies were urbanized and disconnected from agricultural work, there was a split between human beings and nature, between culture and nature.
With the new economic order that is instituted in post World War II, and the establishment of the cold war, the Bretton Woods system is consolidated. The agreements established there served, according to Ikenberry (6), as the basis for building a broad coalition around an order between relatively open and moderate. It was a middle road between supporters of conservative free trade agreements and enthusiasts of the planned economy.
During this period there was “a great restructuring and a substantial reform of capitalism, and a spectacular advance in the globalization and internationalization of the economy” (7) giving rise to a mixed economy, “a kind of marriage between economic liberalism and social democracy ”(Hobsbawm, 1995: 273) that made it easier for states to plan and manage economic modernization, and an expansion of demand.
Somehow World Wars I and II caused one world to crumble and another to appear; the collapse of a social structure occurs. Thus the welfare state was established in the postwar period.
The resources of the Marshall Plan (1947) for the reconstruction of Europe, officially known as the European Recovery Program (ERP), contributed to the modernization of Europe, as well as the American aid to accelerate the transformation of West Germany and Japan was decisive. “The world capitalist economy […] posed fewer obstacles to the international movements of the factors of production than any other” (Hobsbawm, 1995: 279). This economic expansion triggered international (8) and internal migration flows, from rural to urban areas. Agriculture was abandoned, industrialization took over the world, even in the Soviet bloc.
Around the middle of the 20th century, the euphoria of world economic development began and at the end of the 1940s, the United States of America, through its President Harry Truman, imposed its doctrine of development and progress, seeking to “create the conditions necessary to reproduce throughout the world the characteristic features of the most advanced societies of the time: high levels of industrialization and urbanization, modernization of agriculture, rapid growth of material production and living standards, and widespread adoption of education and modern cultural values ”(9)
The doctrine imposed by Truman through what was called the Development Assistance Program consolidates the idea of decolonization and the "invention" of the Third World. For the first time in the history of humanity, a power imposes on the world not only a political regime, but also an ideology, a type of society, a new institutionality.
The imposition of the ideology of progress leads to profound transformations in the field. The green revolution (10) is implanted that mechanizes, transforms the field and exterminates the peasant societies. Urban and suburban societies, megacities in the Third World and suburbanization in the developed world emerge, leading, as Hobsbawm says, that humanity experiences substantial changes and that people's daily lives are radically transformed.
“The economy has grown occupying more and more space in nature; To use Heman Daly's metaphor we have gone from a world relatively empty of human activity to a world relatively full of it (DALY, 1999). Occupation of a space in the strict sense (urbanized space, infrastructure, transformed space for crops and plantations, ...) but also space in a figurative sense (most of the water flow that moves the hydrological cycle channeled for human uses, greater appropriation of primary production of plants, greater occupation of the atmosphere with residues ”(11)
Since the Neolithic, it is the first time that most human beings cease to live on agriculture and livestock, and the urbanization of the world has developed with impetus (Hobsbawn, 1995). Progress meant the triumph of individualism over society, a logic of domination over nature is decisively imposed, a lifestyle, the American way of life, is universalized.
With the consolidation of Western scientific rationality during the 19th century, “the idea that nature had to be subjected, modified in the image and likeness of an imaginary obsessed with hierarchies, fragmentation and materialism. This way of understanding agriculture facilitated the hegemony of an agro-industrial production based on the abusive and massive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, monocultures, hybrid seeds with a narrow genetic base, and dependence on mechanization and the massive use of irrigation. ”(12).
Despite the net increases in agricultural productivity, the Green Revolution, which was imposed since the 1960s with the objective of increasing food production, did not solve the problem of hunger either. The truth is as Amayrta Sen puts it: “Lack of access to food is a social problem and it is not just a question of raising food production vis-a-vis population. Starvation and malnutrition relate ultimately to ownership and exchange in addition to production possibilities. There is, indeed, no such thing as an apolitical food problem ”(13)
A Second Green Revolution (Febles, 2001) is imposed through several parallel processes:
i) The consolidation of control of the food chain by transnational agro-industrial companies;
ii) the legalization of the privatization of life through intellectual property rights (IPR);
iii) the massive deployment of transgenic crops (Febles, 2001), and finally,
iv) the furor in agrofuel production.
During the last decades, these processes transformed the fields in the world, and generated many environmental, social and health conflicts. The changes experienced in the countryside were acute, a shift from traditional and peasant agriculture to industrial agriculture, which has led to the massive destruction of rural life throughout the world, the loss of peasant culture and its replacement by dependence. economic, technological and cultural before the transnationals of agriculture and food. Today, transnational companies dominate the field through the seed, agrochemical and pharmaceutical businesses.
There is a wide range of arguments in relation to the food crisis and the increasing increase in food prices of the last decades (Rosset et al., 2008; Mitchell, 2008, Browm, 2008, Altieri et al., 2008). In addition, institutions such as FAO (2008), UNEP (2009), Grain (2008) have produced important documents that also characterize the crisis.
The truth is that the food crisis responds to the combined effects of various factors such as: the reduction of grain reserves by the public sector, speculation with food reserves by finance capital, the rise in the price of oil, biofuel boom, change in diets, increased food consumption, reduction in agricultural production, the effects of neoliberal and free trade policies on peasant production, food hoarding, among other things.
The guidelines of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made the governments undo the grain reserves in the hands of the public sector, reducing their reserves and their productive capacity of the countries and making them dependent on imports and contributing to cause the rise and volatility of food prices (Rosset et al., 2008). In this sense, "the relationship between world reserves and cereal utilization is estimated at 19.4% for 2007/08, the lowest in three decades" (FAO, 2008: 9).
In 2007, the production of the agricultural sector had a record 2,300 million tons of grains, that is, 4% more than the previous year (Grain, 2008); while "world cereal production fell 3.6% in 2005 and 6.9% in 2006, before recovering in 2007" (FAO, 2008: 10). Be that as it may, the truth is that currently, food production is growing at a faster rate than that of the population. However, although enough food is produced in the world today, it does not reach those who need it. People directly consume less than half of the world's grain production. Most of that production is used for animal consumption and increasingly for agrofuels through large-scale industrial chains.
In addition, a more recent factor that is contributing to the worsening of the crisis has to do with the relationship between food and the linkage of financial markets. With the collapse of the artificial bubble in the US housing market, speculative finance capital discovered a relatively safe market in food markets. Investors began to invest in “the so-called hedge funds, in the stock exchanges of the future contracts for cereals and other foods, the so-called commodities” (Rosset et al, 2008: 19). In fact, “global trading activity in futures and options has more than doubled in the last five years. In the first nine months of 2007, it grew 30% compared to the previous year ”(FAO, 2008: 11).
Without completely ignoring the increase in speculation as an important factor in the increase in food prices, the FAO itself (2008: 11) considers that “it is not clear if speculation is driving prices up or if this behavior it is the result in any case of the rise. One way or another, the large inflow of capital could partly explain the persistence of high prices and their increasing volatility ”.
Another issue that most authors agree on is the relationship between the food crisis and the agrofuel boom. This matter has generated great controversy over the last decade. The promoters of agrofuels have argued the need for them, to replace the high use of oil and the need to move to new energy sources to mitigate climate change.
The truth is that various institutions have been promoting the substitution of fossil fuels for agrofuels, thus causing a notable increase in their production. In this way, more and more food is being used for the production of fuels, becoming an issue that causes too much controversy.
Corn, oil palm, cassava, sugar, soy are being processed to produce biofuels, providing a new element in the close relationship between food and energy. In fact, the rise in the price of oil caused the costs of fertilizers to practically triple between 2006-08, while transport costs doubled in the same period, especially affecting small farmers (FAO, 2008: 10 ). It goes without saying that food production and all its processing, refrigeration, transportation and distribution directly require energy; as well as indirectly for the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides by the use of gas (HICDV, 2008: 25).
Having taken the path of substituting oil for agrofuels has had an impact on food prices, as expressed by several authors: “The USDA's chief economist […], attributed much of the increase in farm prices of maize and soybeans to biofuels production ( Glauber, May 1, 2008). The IMF estimated that the increased demand for biofuels accounted for 70 percent of the increase in maize prices and 40 percent of the increase in soybean prices (Lipsky, May 8, 2008). Collins (2008) […] estimate that about 60 percent of the increase in maize prices from 2006 to 2008 may have
been due to the increase in maize used in ethanol. Rosegrant, et al. (2008) […], calculated the long-term impact on weighted cereal prices of the acceleration in biofuel production from 2000 to 2007 to be 30 percent in real terms. (Mitchell, 2008: 4) The production of biofuels has contributed to potentiate the global food crisis, to increase food prices, to allocate food for the production of fuels to generate competition for land use. Countries like the US, Canada and Brazil today allocate a large part of their land for energy crops. For FAO, “the emerging market for biofuels is an important source of demand for some agricultural commodities, such as sugar, corn, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil. In this way, as this demand grows, prices in world markets increase, which in turn has caused an increase in food prices ”(2008: 10).
Donald Mitchell, who made a report for the World Bank, has no doubt in pointing out that, between 2002 and June 2008, the increase in food prices was caused by the confluence of multiple factors, but he is emphatic in highlighting the great responsibility that has had in the crisis, the growing production of agrofuels: "the most important was the large increase in biofuels production from grains and oilseeds in the US and EU. Without these increases, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate. Land use changes in wheat exporting countries in response to increased plantings of oilseeds for biodiesel production limited expansion of wheat production that could have otherwise prevented the large declines in global wheat stocks and the resulting rise in wheat prices. The rapid rise in oilseed prices was caused mostly by demand for biodiesel production in response to incentives provided by policy changes in the EU beginning in 2001 and in the U.S. beginning in 2004 ”(Mitchell, 2008:)
FAO (2008) predicts that in 2007-08, biofuel production will consume 100 million tons of cereals (4.7% of world production), and will establish significant competition for soils with food crops and livestock . While some consider that both the increase in animal feed production, as well as the growing food requirements of China and India, has triggered the annual demand for feed from 1.5% to 2% in addition to that they are also rising (HCIDC, 2008: 24 and 25), the Indian Vandana Shiva, do not find an argument there: Economic growth has gone hand in hand with increased hunger. In India, one million children die annually from lack of food […], the quality of food has deteriorated compared to how it was before globalization, even in the middle classes. The poor are now worse off because both their livelihoods and food have been destroyed (14).
Indeed, China and India have increased their demand, however, imports of cereals by China and India have fallen from approximately 14 million tons in the early 1980s to about 6 million in the last three years, due to to which have been covered by domestic production (FAO, 2008: 11)
Now, an issue that cannot be set aside in this crisis is the impact that the so-called environmental crisis is having on it, which Boff (1995) associates with sick earth. This relationship could be related to what in the words of Lester Brown (2004) is known as the agri-food economic bubble. Undoubtedly, in the coming years, the environmental crisis will have severe repercussions on food production, deepen the food crisis and transform humanity.
Food production has been based on a development and agricultural model that has led to a crisis in the access and supply of water for irrigation of crops, desertification, soil deterioration, deforestation, loss of biodiversity , the destruction of the jungles.
Browm considers that "many countries are feeding their growing populations by pumping excessively to their aquifers" (Brown, 2004: 25), overextraction has caused the level of groundwater to fall almost everywhere in the world. In 1976, Saudi Arabia, anticipating a food embargo, decided to be self-sufficient in wheat production, so they drilled 800 meters until they found water. Three decades later, the aquifer is being depleted, its grain production decreases every year and there is a forecast to stop it by 2016. Yemen and India are experiencing the same situation (15). "The World Bank estimates that 15% of Indian grain production (the 170 million feed) is the result of over-extraction of water and, by definition, over-extraction is cyclical because water ends up being depleted" (Brown, 2004 ).
The agri-food economic bubble would be based on the production of food on a situation artificially inflated by the unsustainable use of groundwater, and we would also be very close to it bursting (Brown, 2004: 26 and 27). On the one hand, because the global demand for water tripled in the last 50 years, on the other because the availability of land could limit food production in the coming years. “Soil erosion and the expansion of deserts, […] are endangering the subsistence and food supply of hundreds of millions of people in the world” (Brown, 2004: 26).
For Shiva (2008), the absolute decline in food production has three key factors: the transformation of production systems based on ecological biodiversity to chemical monoculture systems, the change from food crops to agro-industrial crops and the vulnerability produced by climate change . In this way, less and less food is produced for local populations and economies, while fields are transformed into large monocultures that contribute significantly to the deterioration of nature, people's lives and local economies.
However the food crisis is real, they add to the causes already mentioned, the changes in food diets that demand more meat and dairy products, the demand for land by transnational companies and countries to satisfy their demand (Grain , 2008), production losses due to climatic events, deterioration of production systems. The demand for food will continue, the International Food Policy Research Institute (HCIDC, 2008; 25) considers that in 2020 more than 300 million metric tons of cereal will be required per year. Will there be conditions to achieve this goal? Have the inequitable policies that concentrate food production in few have changed? The truth is that hunger grows and will continue to grow if radical measures are not taken to confront it.
Food crisis and development crisis
The current global food situation has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of impoverished people on the planet, including increasing infant mortality, those already malnourished or living in poverty, and who use among the 70 and 80% of your daily income for the purchase of food. If the current conditions of the food crisis continue, as some warn, it will seriously threaten the livelihoods of millions of people and could lead to further poverty and widespread hunger.
Undoubtedly, the factors already analyzed as causes of the food crisis are important but there is an aspect that economists and development theorists have still left out of the analysis of this phenomenon, something that is behind the discussion.
The food crisis is the result of the imposition of structural adjustment and trade liberalization policies imposed on countries called developing by the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 1979, of the trade policies imposed by the World Trade Organization since the 1990s and, more recently, the bi-lateral free trade and investment agreements (Grain, 2008), as well stated by Grain (2008) and also by Rosset and Avila (2008 ).
Developing countries were forced to dismantle their tariffs and other instruments and mechanisms to protect their local agricultural production. Thus, while the so-called developed or industrialized countries forced the poor countries to eliminate trade barriers, "they maintained theirs and prevented the underdeveloped countries from exporting agricultural products, depriving them of a distressingly necessary income via exports" (16)
The national productive capacity for food was dismantled and agro-exports were imposed, in turn stimulated by huge subsidies to agribusiness from public budgets. Without government support, peasant production deteriorated, guarantee prices, loans, technical assistance, promotion and marketing programs ended, while the national market was flooded by cheap imports that ended up driving peasants to the ruin itself (Rosset et al., 2008: 19).
As local agricultural production in impoverished countries declined due to this package of measures, they were forced to open “their markets and lands to global agribusiness, speculators and subsidized food exports from rich countries” (Grain, 2008). At present, this situation has led to the majority of developing countries, which previously produced their own food, now depend on food imports, “approximately 70% of the so-called developing countries are importers. net of food ”(Grain, 2008)
En ese proceso, las tierras fértiles fueron reconvertidas de la producción de alimentos para abastecimiento de un mercado local a la producción de commodities mundiales para la exportación o cultivos de contra estación y de alto valor para abastecer los supermercados occidentales. Es en esta lógica que también se promueven la producción de agrocombustibles. De acuerdo a Grain nos encontramos en medio de un colapso estructural, consecuencia directa de tres décadas de globalización neoliberal(17). Se han priorizado la agroindustria para la exportación y los agronegocios mientras los sectores campesinos y de agricultura familiar, que siguen siendo quienes principalmente garantizan los alimentos en el mundo; son expulsados de los campos para favorecer a los grandes productores que tienen vocación para la exportación. “La destrucción de la vida campesina es tan grave que ha sido caracterizada, con razón, como una «guerra» contra el mundo rural”(18)
El panorama no es nada alentador. Si bien prima un cierto optimismo entre quienes siempre encuentran en cada crisis una nueva oportunidad para el mercado y promueven iniciativas como los transgénicos o, incluso la propia FAO que encuentra en los precios altos de los alimentos una oportunidad para la agricultura (también para los pequeños agricultores) en los países en desarrollo, si van acompañados de la provisión de bienes públicos esenciales. Las ganancias de los pequeños agricultores podrían impulsar un desarrollo económico y rural más amplio. Los hogares agrícolas pueden obtener beneficios inmediatos; otros hogares rurales podrían beneficiarse a largo plazo si los precios elevados se convirtiesen en oportunidades para aumentar la producción y crear empleo. (FAO, 2008: 2)e incluso las expectativas de la FAO
La realidad es que nos encontramos ante una dura realidad, las épocas de la abundancia están llegando a su fin. No sólo parecieran terminar los tiempos de alimentos baratos sino también de otros recursos y materias primas. Estamos ante las postrimerías del desarrollo fundamentado en el consumo excesivo de agua, energía, naturaleza, materias primas. Nos encontramos no solo ante el pico del petróleo que pronosticó Hubbert hace varias décadas, sino ante un pico de todo, como nos dice claramente Richard Heinberg(19). El derroche y la abundancia con la que se construyó esta civilización no tiene ya sustento. El planeta tiene un límite.
O nos encaminamos hacia una solución radical o nos mantenemos en el camino hacia la catástrofe. No sería la primera vez que sucediera en la historia de la humanidad. Existen abundantes ejemplos de civilizaciones muy avanzadas para las que no hubo alternativa y que, naufragaron cuando excedieron los límites naturales en los que basaban su desarrollo. Como bien lo plantea el autor de Peak Everything. Waking up to the century of declines: “if our dependence on oil, natural gas, and coal continues unabated the post-peak decline in their availability could trigger economic collapse, famine, and a general war over remaining resources […]. Without oil for transportation and agricultors, without gas for heating, chemicals, and fertilizers, and without coal for power generation, the global economy would sputter to a halt” (Heinberg, 2007: 20).
Para Brown en el futuro, el crecimiento de la producción alimentaria será inferior a la demanda, la burbuja económica alimentaria esta por reventarse. Lo que se pronosticaba para un futuro lejano, se ve llegar antes de lo esperado. Los hechos que “precipitarán los futuros déficit alimentarios serán los crecientes déficit de agua, interactuando con olas de calor que secarán las cosechas en regiones muy importantes para la producción alimentaria” (Brown, 2007: 38)
El asunto alimentario es tan grave que “la alimentación se está convirtiendo con rapidez en una cuestión de seguridad nacional, a medida que el crecimiento de la cosecha mundial se ralentiza y la disminución del nivel de las capas freáticas y el aumento de las temperaturas hacen pensar en déficit futuros” (Brown, 2007: 38).
Sus vaticinios no están muy lejanos, las grandes sequías en el Cono Sur en este último verano, dejaron millones de animales muertos y una fuerte caída en la producción de soja y maíz, tanto en Uruguay como en Argentina y en el resto del mundo; sin duda el futuro es incierto. ¿Estaremos a tiempo de rectificar?
Tatiana Roa Avendaño es miembro de Censat Agua Viva- Centro Nacional de Salud, Ambiente y Trabajo -Bogotá, Colombia www.censat.org
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