Globalization and Food Security

Globalization and Food Security

By Jorge Enrique Robledo Castillo *

Running out of electricity, cars and other instruments would undoubtedly mean a very serious crisis for any society. But not having food would lead to its inevitable disappearance.

Agricultural production has great social importance, because peasants, businessmen, indigenous people and agricultural workers depend directly on it. But the countryside is also key because it constitutes a vital part of the internal market of any nation, when acquiring goods that are generated in urban areas, whether they are for consumption or capital, and supplying food and raw materials to cities, as well as exchanging products between rural areas. In turn, agriculture also contributes to the development of countries by generating foreign exchange that adds to their trade and payments balances.

But with everything and how decisive the previous aspects are, the fundamental role of agriculture lies in the fact that food security depends on it, a concept that is increasingly used but on which there are enormous differences regarding its meaning. What should be understood by food safety? Does she limit each peasant family to produce their food on their plot? Does it mean that Colombia must ensure sufficient foreign exchange to be able to import the nation's food? Or, rather, should it be thought that national producers - peasants and entrepreneurs - have the capacity to feed the entire country?

Before answering the previous questions, a precision must be made that is not obvious enough, given the great confusion that is observed on the subject. No matter how much humanity has evolved, human beings continue to be beings that we must feed ourselves on pain of dying from hunger, from which it follows that the main concern of a nation, and of the State that organizes and represents it, is that, Whatever happens, the food gets to your table. Running out of electricity, cars and other instruments would undoubtedly mean a very serious crisis for any society. And that food has always been available in Colombia, even in the midst of immense limitations for a considerable portion of its population, does not mean that this will always be the case, as it is well known in so many countries where, due to international wars , environmental catastrophes or internal shocks, their food supplies have been cut off in large proportions, even for those who had the means to buy them. It is no coincidence, then, that food has been used as weapons in warfare and that the very concept of food security gained importance after the Second World War, when Europe devastated by the conflagration suffered the unspeakable by the lack of food.

A look at the operation of the North American economy, the main agricultural power in the world, allows us to put into perspective why there is so much interest in its production in the field, an analysis that will serve to better understand the subject at hand. The social importance of the North American rural world is, if you will, less, if it is measured by the number of inhabitants who live from work in the fields, of the order of one percent of the total population. It is obvious that if the agriculture of that country disappeared, that population could be absorbed with relative ease by the very powerful economies of its cities. In addition, the contribution of its agricultural production to the Gross Domestic Product, with about two percent, also turns out to be, in relative terms, very low, if compared, for example, with that of Colombia, eight times higher [2] . If only these two variables were looked at, the importance of agriculture in the United States would not be very remarkable. But, on the other hand, its agricultural production is of great interest, since it is part of the market for capital goods industries as key as steel, automotive and petrochemicals, and even has enormous links with an area of ​​knowledge to which Great economic possibilities are predicted for the whole of that society: the manipulation of the genes of plants and animals. And its field generates exports for more than 50 billion dollars a year, which have a notable weight in its total sales abroad, which are around 680 billion dollars.

The other fact that deserves to be highlighted in order to draw broad strokes the role assigned to agriculture in that country, has to do with the enormous support that the State provides its farmers, ranchers and poultry farmers, as well illustrated by the measures of all types that protect them from imports from the rest of the world and the annual budget of the Department of Agriculture (ministry, in our terms), which reaches 97 billion dollars, to which should be added the other subsidies that come to them for the path of other official institutions, such as those related to scientific research and education.

But to fully understand the place that agriculture has in the United States, the apparent contradiction that exists between its policy of producing the food of its people domestically, versus its decision to locate abroad a considerable part of its low-income industries, must be cleared up. or medium technology, despite the fact that agricultural production is, by definition, of relatively low technological complexity, a reality that is evident when a tractor is compared with a communications satellite, for example.
Surely, for the immediate interests of the North Americans it would be better business to locate food production in third world countries, using for this the very cheap labor of these, plus the capital, machinery and other inputs of the power, as it comes doing with other economic sectors. An obvious question arises from these facts: why don't they remove all or almost all agricultural production from their territory? Why maintain an agrarian model that is clearly “inefficient”, in terms of neoliberal jargon?

The answer is no mystery: the United States is not going to commit the political and economic suicide of putting the fundamental part of the food of its people outside its territory, which would be subject to the many vicissitudes that could suspend the flow of its food, such as strikes and civil or military commotions in the producing countries, regional or world wars, environmental catastrophes and even terrorist acts, risks to which should be added the extortion capacity that would be granted to the states of the nations where they occurred. their food. This orientation of its economic policy has the additional attraction of being able to use its food exports as instruments of pressure or blackmail against countries that cannot or refuse to produce the basic diet of their peoples, a decisive advantage in its well-known purpose of exercising a global hegemony.

So, the concept of food security not only refers to the problem of ensuring that a nation's food exists, but it has to do, above all, with where it is produced and if it can be guaranteed that it reaches the place where it should arrive. Little or nothing would get a country if its food were somewhere in the world, if for whatever reason it was not available to its people. This is the ultimate reason, the one that subordinates to the rest, important as they are, which explains why the 29 richest countries on earth spend 370 billion dollars a year in subsidies to their agriculture, a figure that has grown dramatically. uninterrupted for decades and in the last one rose by 50 billion. To this reason can be added one whose motives are not the case to develop here, but which are also linked to the fact that without food human beings cannot survive: in capitalist countries, where for reasons of their own economic structure it has disappeared or the peasant economy tends to disappear, business production cannot be developed in the countryside without strong subsidies, since capital does not go to the countryside if the State does not assure it of profits that the market cannot guarantee by itself. And if in capitalism the business community requires strong subsidies to be linked to agriculture, for the survival of the peasantry not to mention it.

That is why the invocations of some are so naive so that, in neoliberal globalization, the United States and the other powers eliminate subsidies and other protection measures to their farmers and ranchers, offering them in exchange that the backward countries become the suppliers of their food. How long would a president of the United States last in office who raised the theory of taking production out of the national territory

of food, because that would save a few million dollars? How long would it take between your proposal and the moment someone yelled a felon at you?

Food security, then, must be conceived as a national problem, in the sense that each nation must strive to produce its basic diet within the territory over which it exercises its sovereignty, the only one in which it can define the measures that are appropriate. to maintain and develop the agricultural production that the survival of its people requires. And it is easy to understand that a country that loses the ability to feed its nation with its own products is on the verge of also losing its national sovereignty against those who monopolize its food.

Once the immense risk implicit in the loss of national food security has been established, a risk that the United States does not even dare to run - despite the fact that as the main economic and military power on earth it would have the option of responding to it with huge retaliations. to the country that cuts off its food supplies—, it remains to be answered who should produce the food in Colombia, whether the peasants and the indigenous or the businessmen and the agricultural workers, or the two combined sectors. It is also convenient to get out of some populist positions that in fact serve the neoliberal conceptions that preach the anti-national theory that the concept of food security - which, obviously, they cannot outright deny - must exist but understood as a problem. globally, that is, food should be enough to feed the planet, but no matter where it is generated.

The most basic and simple definition that can be made of the field indicates that this is the territory where food is produced. Hence, cities only appeared when the rural population was able to generate a sufficient quantity of product to feed itself, plus a surplus capable of feeding urban inhabitants, who, first, had to generate the capacity for coercion to ensure that this flow was uninterrupted. For this reason, the categories of State and city appeared simultaneously in the history of humanity.

The problem of food security arose, then, with the simple separation of the countryside and the city, but it is directly proportional to the growth of urban areas. Hence, in slave-owning Rome, for example, it was greater than in the feudal period, since in this last period almost the entire population was peasant, which implied an economy of self-consumption that required generating very few surpluses, just those necessary to maintain the few exchanges that were made between the peasants themselves and to supply the even scarcer inhabitants of the very small towns.

From the foregoing it can be deduced that the problem of food security, in its modern sense, coincides with the development of capitalism and with the increasing presence of the population in urban areas, an immense population transfer that has to be coupled with a proportional increase in the productivity of those who stay in the field. Strictly speaking - and assuming that each peasant family can produce all of its food - food security refers to who and where the food of the city dwellers will be produced. Can anyone imagine what would happen if food stopped arriving in cities like Bogotá, which have millions of inhabitants?

So, those who seek to reduce the concept of food security so that each peasant family generates its own food, ignoring the problem of food in the cities and even those who live in rural areas but who are not peasants, are wrong in serious matters because they end up becoming useful idiots of the conceptions that defend that food from Colombian cities should be brought from abroad, granting the countries that monopolize that production the greatest capacity for blackmail that can be conceived. Furthermore, this conception, apparently very friendly to the peasantry, in fact works against them, as it asks them to renounce supplying the entire national internal market - including the day laborers, who by definition must buy their food. , which condemns it to the dreadful misery of the natural economy and requires it to forget all the goods of modernity, which in no way can it produce on its plots. And populisms aside, it is obvious that in today's world it is not even possible to return to rural self-consumption economies, such as those that existed before. In the long run, the alternative that these populists offer to the peasants in the face of food imports that take away their market is not the natural economy but their ruin, the loss of their plots and their displacement towards the slums of the cities .

Of course, no false conclusions can be drawn from the previous details. No sensible person can oppose peasant families improving their diet by generating a part of their diet. But neither should any of them ask the peasantry to give up selling in the entire national market, the minimum requirement to procure a better life. What it is about is to defend the internal market as the market that is proper to the peasantry, but also to the rural entrepreneurs and day laborers, since they are part of the nation and its progress depends on its development. And to those who, also with a populist conception, supposedly a friend of the poor, applaud that rural entrepreneurs go bankrupt under the weight of imports, we must remind them that with their bankruptcy, unemployment and the misery of their day laborers, who are compatriots as poor or poorer than the peasantry, so as not to insist on the loss of national food security.

That the Colombian populists, who insist that the problem of food security refers only to the production of self-consumption by the peasants, ask why, in practice, they coincide with the policies promoted by the Creole neoliberals and the Monetary Fund International, which increasingly demagogue about peasant food security, while maintaining and seeking to increase agricultural imports, which have already reached seven million tons a year.

The other aspect that must be specified refers to the fact that it is not a matter of producing any type of good in the field, since there are also products that, such as cotton and flowers, are undoubtedly economically important but for the reasons already mentioned and different to that of food security, because they are not food. And something similar can be said of crops that, although they are food, are not part of the basic diet of humanity, such as coffee, cocoa, bananas and even edible oils. Giving up the production of cereals [3] and potatoes, meat and milk, for example, to specialize the country in tropical products, also undermines national food security, since a nation that only eats bananas, chocolates and coffee, leaving you the option to define which of these you add the oil and with which flowers you decorate the table.

Therefore, the country's specialization in crops typical of the tropics - understood as those that for reasons of climate cannot be cultivated in the temperate zones of the earth, where the United States is located - also presupposes giving up national food security and accepting the criterion that the neoliberals want to impose that it does not matter where the basic diet of the nation is produced as long as it generates enough resources to be able to buy them, a criterion that not by chance has been defined by US imperialism through the International Monetary Fund, one of its main instruments of neocolonial domination.

And this debate on Colombia's food security does not have only academic interest or future importance, because there are many elements that show that as of 1990 it was decided to definitively attack against it, after which, as of the The well-known imposition of the 1950s, it was decided to import from the United States almost all the wheat for national consumption, thus complementing the process that came from behind to make it a key part of the diet of Colombians.

Let it be Plan Colombia itself, dictated, as is known, by the North American government, which summarizes the impact of the opening on national food security and what the Colombian agricultural policy should be in the years to come, text in the that there is not even demagogy about recovering what was lost in the field or protecting what still survives and that defines the country's specialization in tropical crops:

“In the last ten years, Colombia has opened its economy, traditionally closed… the agricultural sector has suffered serious impacts since the production of some cereals such as wheat, corn, barley, and other basic products such as soybeans, cotton and sorghum have been uncompetitive in international markets. As a result of this - he adds - 700 thousand hectares of agricultural production have been lost due to the increase in imports during the 90s, and this in turn has been a dramatic blow to employment in rural areas ”. And he concludes: "The expected modernization of agriculture in Colombia has progressed very slowly, since permanent crops in which Colombia is competitive as a tropical country, require substantial investments and credits since they are late-yielding" (underlined in this text).

Even with less explicit phrases than the previous ones, the same sentence appears in the agreements signed in the World Trade Organization [4], in the agreement signed with the International Monetary Fund and that is what the entry of Colombia to the FTAA will inexorably lead to, the Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas, with the aggravating circumstance that with this last pact they could end up suffering, and a lot, even tropical crops, since this new opening must be made with all the countries of the continent. The FTAA will enter into force in January 2005 and will lead, in a ten-year process, to a total, absolute opening, with zero percent tariffs, of the national economy as a whole, which means that, for example, the production of rice, sugar, potatoes, chicken and milk, because they have, respectively, tariffs on their imports from countries other than the Andean Community of 72, 45, 15, 102 and 44 percent, since it is hardly elementary to think that in such In a short time, their production costs will not be able to be lowered to levels at which they can compete, even if the United States did not have the supreme weapon to increase subsidies to its agriculture as much as it deems necessary for its strategic interests of continental and global domination. Also, with the FTAA, Colombia could end up flooded with Brazilian coffee.

And that the Creole neoliberals act consciously against national food security, they recognize it themselves. In a text on the subject, Rudolf Hommes, who was Minister of Finance in the government of César Gaviria, says:

“In a paper that we presented with José Leibovich a couple of weeks ago at the Fedearroz Annual Congress, we analyzed the concern that exists about the importation of food, and we concluded that these fears are unfounded and that the supposed problem of food imports does not exist. . The food industry itself generates large export earnings to purchase imported food. Produce what adds the most value and maintain a diversified portfolio of food sources. It makes no sense to sow wheat or cereals when the productivity of a hectare sown with flowers can be up to 45 times higher than if cereals are sown. The private sector and the markets, with some interference from the Government, seem to have reached reasonable solutions regarding the allocation of resources to produce food and other agricultural products ”[5]

The ultimate cause of the policies of neoliberal globalization is known, which are so aggressive that they have already been classified as recolonization processes against third world countries. The world suffers from a typical crisis of capitalist overproduction that, like the previous ones, consists in that the production capacity of humanity exceeds its consumption capacity, only with a fact that makes it huge compared to the previous ones: a huge accumulation of wealth in power of a few powers, and especially of the United States, whose economies could end up falling apart if they did not manage to dispose of their surplus merchandise and capital. That this overproduction is relative, because at the same time billions of human beings cannot consume almost anything, does not take away the certainty that the main objective of transnational corporations of all kinds is to take away from poor countries their main sources of accumulation of wealth, subjecting them to conditions of oppression and backwardness of unimaginable proportions. In the words of Lester Turow, one of the leading North American economists, the world situation of agricultural production is as follows:

“The world can simply produce more than what those with money to pay need to eat. No government will sign an agreement that forces a large number of its farmers and a large area of ​​their land to withdraw from agriculture ”[6]

Anyone would think that the well-known MIT professor did not know of the existence of characters like Gaviria, Samper and Pastrana, since they generated or maintained the policies that led to the disappearance of 700 thousand hectares of agriculture in Colombia. But no, the behavior of heads of state like these is of universal knowledge. What happens is that Turow was referring to the point of view of the governments of developed countries, where for the various reasons already explained they are not going to remove either producers or land from their agricultural sector.

It is clear, then, that the neoliberal policies applied in Colombia in the last decade did not fail, because their purpose was not to develop agriculture and the country, but to place them in the conditions in which they were placed. And that is why the decision made by the United States and by the minority that executes its policies in the country is to deepen the openness, as the agreements signed at the World Trade Organization, the agreement signed with the IMF and the the decision to include Colombia in the FTAA, the latter decision taken in secret and on which they have thrown a veil so that the nation does not know its fearsome consequences. Anyone who does not understand that neoliberal globalization is not a mistake but a conspiracy will never understand what is happening in the country. And the same happens to those who have not been able to see that the gang that leads Colombia managed to separate, now more than ever, their personal interests from those of the nation.

Finally, there will be no shortage of the naïve who think that no one would dare to turn food into a source of extortion from some countries against others. However, history shows that empires are capable of any aggression, however brutal, in order to maintain their privileges for their economic oligarchies. And for the sample, a button specific enough to dispel any doubts: according to the United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, “even the importation of food would be restricted” to countries that, for example, declared themselves insolvent before their lenders [7 ].

Thus, in Colombia it is necessary to fight and win, as a position of principle, that is to say, inalienable, the achievement and maintenance of national food security, even when for this the State must raise tariffs on agricultural imports to whatever extent necessary, while defining all kinds of policies to support the production of peasants, indigenous people and entrepreneurs, so that they raise the productivity of their farms and parcels to the highest possible levels.

Manizales, March 2002.


* Professor at the National University of Colombia, Manizales campus. National Coordinator of the Coffee Unit and Secretary General of the National Association for Agricultural Salvation. Senator elect of the MOIR for the period 2002-2006. -

[2] For reasons that are not the case to explain here, the participation of the agricultural sector in GDP tends to decrease as countries industrialize.

[3] Among the foods that make up the basic diet of humanity, cereals are, without a doubt, the fundamental pillar.

[4] In a letter addressed on April 14, 2000 to Augusto del Valle, manager of Fedepapa, Juan Lucas Restrepo Ibiza, Head of the Agrarian Development Unit of the National Planning Department, explained the agricultural agreements signed by Colombia in the World Organization of Commerce (WTO) in the following terms: “What the National Planning Department should not do at this time is to intervene to stop current imports (of potatoes), as this is due to a trade policy agreed with international organizations. As you know, the country has made a commitment to the international community in the process of freeing the markets and in the agreement with the WTO, products have been chosen that, due to their wide level of commercialization, require, for a reasonable period of time, the protection of the State through a 'go-ahead' to your import permit. Among these products there is no potato, so I depart from your appreciation that the Ministry of Agriculture had allowed the importation of potatoes. In the free market, the import of the product is presented by the imbalance between its ample demand and its reduced supply, which translates into high prices and low competitiveness ”.

[5] Hommes, Rudolf, “Poverty and food security”, El País, December 23, 2001.

[6] Turow, Lester, War of the 21st Century, p. 73, Vergara, Buenos Aires, 1992.

[7] Roddick, Jacqueline, The Debt Business, p. 80, El Áncora Editores, Bogotá, 1990.