"A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY"
Interview with Jean Ziegler
[Jean Ziegler, former UN special envoy for the right to food, urges market regulations in this May 2008 Austrian Standard interview translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.thestandard.at. Stop bio-fuel production and strengthen market regulations!]
STANDARD: You are a sharp critic of the international community of states and conglomerate multinationals. In the last decades, hundreds of billions in relief funds flowed into developing countries. Little was accomplished. Don't the developing countries bear some responsibility for the hunger crisis?
Ziegler: The problem in this crisis is that the World Bank for years ignored subsistence economics (safeguarding the self-sufficiency of farmers). Farmers in developing countries were supported in producing certain export goods for the world market while simultaneously buying food on the world market.
Mali is one example. The land covers its rice consumption through the world market. The price of rice has soared 53 percent in the last months. A ton costs $1000. The country is now in a critical plight since its people cannot provide for themselves. Export agriculture was forced on developing countries.
STANDARD: Doesn't the crisis also involve shortage of resources? In Ethiopia, farmers use all the topsoil to grow their tef, the traditional Ethiopian grain.
Ziegler: Resources are a problem. However people starved to death and their tef rotted in the Ethiopian distress of 2003. The World Bank would contribute more to development if it financed infrastructures and roads instead of imposing regulations on farmers and then financing relief shipments from surplus US wheat.
STANDARD: These relief shipments are also an instrument of rule.
Ziegler: Look at Egypt. Mubarak would be gone if the American ships had not docked in Port Said for a week with relief goods.
STANDARD: What are the causes of the crisis?
Ziegler: Several things play together. The first cause is certainly the conversion of food into bio-ethanol and bio-diesel. The millions of cars driving around in America destroy the ozone layer. Substituting fossil energy by changing to agricultural energy is an understandable argument. But when you fill the tank with 50 liters of ethanol, you burn over 700 pounds of corn. A Zambian child could live a whole year from that. Whatever the reasonable arguments, it is a crime against the starving.
A second reason for the present situation is the financial crisis that leads hedge-funds to leave real estate and pump its speculative money into raw materials and food.
STANDARD: This food crisis is a multilayered problem. Every attempted solution brings many new problems. What is your remedy for the crisis?
Ziegler: A second tragedy follows the first tragedy. The massacre of hunger has normalized. According to the 2007 World Food Report, a child under ten starves to death every five seconds. Everyday 100,000 persons die of hunger or its immediate consequences. In 2007, 854 million persons were permanently and most gravely malnourished. A price explosion follows this tragedy. Urban classes who have to buy food are affected above all.
According to the World Bank, 2.2 billion persons live below the subsistence level. They don't have money to suddenly pay double for a sack of rice. In these poorest households of the world, 80 to 90 percent of the household budget is spent for food. In Vienna or Geneva, the percentage is ten or 15 percent. That is the reason for the hunger revolts and the total despair.
Two steps are crucial. First, the immediate humanitarian relief of the UN must be saved. The World Food program has lost 40 percent of its reserves through higher prices. 75 million are on the charity list. These persons live in regions where there is no economy any more, where there is no sowing or harvesting. A billion dollars must be found so the emergency relief for 75 million persons from Myanmar to Kenya can be maintained. Structural reforms are the second imperative. An immediate prohibition of bio-ethanol and bio-diesel is necessary. The European Union (EU) still hopes that ten percent of energy consumption in its member states will come from vegetable energy until 2020. This is a completer absurdity. European farmers cannot afford this while the majority of Africans now suffer malnutrition.
The price will fall following the prohibition of bio-fuel. Secondly, the speculations can be broken. After the financial crash, the stock market authorities introduced draconian anti-speculation norms. Therefore the hedge-funds migrated. In the world agricultural-raw material market, the rules are absolutely archaic. The whole future soy harvest of Brazil can be bought with comparatively little hedge-fund capital resources.
STANDARD: In other words, more regulation instead of more market access is vital for developing countries.
Ziegler: A rebellion of conscience is needed. People must grasp the problem - I speak here of democracies with a free press and parliament. Our finance ministers must become active in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The Austrian people can demand a paradigm shift from the Austrian finance minister. Drastic intervention measures are necessary. Total liberalization and privatization lead to catastrophe.