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genetic engineering | sustainability

Hunger, GKMs and Speculation

Like many other countries, Kenya provided its own staple foods until the 1980s. Today the country imports 80% of its food. To buy up the entire grain harvest of the US, only $120 billion is needed-a small amount for the speculators on the currency market.

Today's Food Crisis is not a Natural Disaster

By Annette Groth

[This article published in: ak - analyse & kritik, 6/25/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=3752. Annette Groth is a development policy spokesperson for DIE LINKE, the new German Left party in the Bundestag.]

The current discussions on the food crisis and the role of agriculture in the countries of the South offer many good arguments for a socially and ecologically sustainable agricultural policy. That the export-oriented agro-industry controlled by mammoth corporations could extensively transform and subjugate agriculture under its control and under conditions of capitalist exploitation is a great danger. Reviving the Green revolution that failed in Africa in the 1990s is also a great danger.

One main reason for the failure of the Green Revolution was the decline in public funds and development assistance for the agricultural sector. Agricultural promotion concentrated on export products like coffee, cocoa and later cut-flowers, fruits and other products with "location advantages." Food imports from the US and the European Union (EU) have low prices through subsidies. Forced tariff reductions on import products drive many indigenous farmers into bankruptcy. Thus many African countries rapidly fall into a vicious circle with promotion of the agricultural sector, cultivation of food for their own population and falling world market prices for coffee reducing income. The example of Kenya shows the extent of the mis-development. Like many other countries, Kenya provided itself with staple foods up to the 1980s. Today the country imports 80 percent of its food.

In July 2004 former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan appealed to the international community to create a new African Green revolution. In September 2006, the Bill-and-Melinda foundation with the Rockefeller foundation launched an "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa." Jacques Diof, head of the UN FAO agricultural program, urged its support. The center of gravity of this "revolution" is PASS (Program for Africa's Seed Systems), a program for national and international agricultural research to breed at least 200 new seed varieties within the next five years. "The promising possibilities in bio-technology" should be used in cooperation with agricultural corporations like Monsanto.


The appeal of UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon in April 2008 shows the great danger that the food crisis can now be used for spreading genetically-engineered seed and foods (GMOs). Like his predecessor, Ban Ki Moon promotes the use of genetically-altered seed because it supposedly guarantees higher yields. The UN makes itself the agent of agricultural corporations pursuing the goal of the greatest possible diffusion of GMOs.

The introduction of GMOs was already controversial during the 2002 food crisis in southern Africa. At that time the US wanted to deliver 500,000 tons of corn to Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The governments at that time refused to accept the gift because genetic corn was involved. The pressure from the World Bank and the IMF on Malawi to sell its massive corn supply for debt reduction was insidious. When the crisis was striking in 2001, Malawi adjusted its corn supply to cushion the food crisis. Like today, speculators bought up the supply for a song and sold that supply later at high prices. At that time the former director of the IMF and current president of Germany, Horst Kohler, and the World Bank blamed each other for the "compulsory auctions" in Malawi. During the crisis, the IMF and the World Bank demanded cancellation of all subsidies for food and agriculture from the Malawi government as a condition for development- and relief assistance. According to the argument, the market should determine the price of food. What would be the reaction in Germany today if the president of Germany demanded cancellation of all subsidies?

The success of the "genetic campaign" in Africa is manifest with cotton. After Burkina Faso, Mali is Africa's largest cotton producer and started a five-year program to introduce GMOs. Monsanto, Syngenta and USAID are the leaders. "Trans-gene plants are accepted in Africa. The battle is won," said Pedro Sanchez, former chairperson of the UN Hunger task force and GMO lobbyist. In South Africa, the genetic lobbyists were also successful. Importers of genetic wheat do not need any special import license any more to import a genetic product allowed in the US.

The arguments for the alleged advantages of genetically-modified agricultural products are easy to refute. Genetic food is not cheaper. On the contrary, genetic corn in the US is a third more expensive than conventional corn. With some genetic plants, the use of agricultural chemicals has to be increased because destructive weeds are resistant. The yield is often not higher. The Office for Technology Assessment of the German Bundestag concluded a benefit from GMOs cannot be proven. A former Monsanto representative explained the use of GMOs: "Monsanto wants world domination over all food." In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger declared: "Whoever controls oil can control all nations; whoever controls food controls people."

Today only five conglomerates dominate 90 percent of the world grain market. The two market leaders Cargill and ADM alone control 65 percent of the worldwide trade. Global supermarket chains like Carrefour, Metro, Wal-Mart, Ahold and Tesco also on the food market today and increasingly control the food market as middlemen and retailers. They pressure producers to receive less and less for their products. In India there is already a great wave of protest against these attempts at market rule because ten million retailers and intermediaries could lose their income through the supermarket chains.


The new edition of the so-called Green revolution is a real threat for the informal seed sector of small farmers who for a long while covered up to 90 percent of the worldwide need. Seed is exchanged or purchased cheaply on informal seed markets. The system of cheap seed utilization possible for everyone should be replaced by a formal seed distribution system controlled by multinational conglomerates. The call to a "Green Revolution in Africa" is the attempt to subjugate Africa's agriculture not yet completely integrated in the global value-creation chain to the commercialization conditions of the capitalist world market.

Biofuels are now denounced in connection with the current food crisis. It is estimated that 30 to 70 percent of the price increases for food can be referred back to the intensified cultivation of plants for production of fuel. Despite growing criticism of promotion of biofuels by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European energy agencies and numerous development assistance organizations, the EU still encourages the development of fuel. These subsidies should be cancelled. The EU environmental ministries only want to allow such biofuels in the future for which no rainforests would be cleared. In the future, biofuel should be restricted to prevent a shortage of food and higher food prices. In addition, the EU commission will only allow fuels that emit at least 35 percent less CO2 from production to consumption than fossil fuels.


The three church relief organizations Bread for the World, EEID and Misereor also insist the greatest potential for combating poverty and hunger lies in mixed cultivation, diversity of species and adjusted countries, not in monocultures and genetically-manipulated energy plants.

Massive resistance against growing biofuels comes especially from representatives of many civil societies in countries of the South. They emphasize that the consequences of growing export of bio-genetic fuels include the violent expulsion of small farmers and indigenous people from their land, not only increasing deforestation of rainforests, a structurally-poor intensive farming monoculture and increasing water shortage. This land is now used for the production of biofuels instead of sugar cane and palm oil. For these people, the often violent expulsion represents a massive violation of their human rights.

"Bio-sprit" (biofuel) is also criticized for ecological reasons. Scientific studies show that more greenhouse gases are often emitted through the planting of corn, rapeseed oil and palm oil than is saved through the fuel gained from the plants. The production of biofuels can even drastically accelerate climate change. More than 400 times as much carbon dioxide arises through the fire clearing in Indonesia than can be saved every year with palm oil produced on the same acreage. The Brazilian rainforest sacrificed for soy plantation releases 300 times more CO2 than is saved per year with biosprit. The production of ethanol from corn doubles the emission of greenhouse gases for 30 years. If one takes into account the industrial growing of plants, fertilizing, production and transport, the environmental balance all in all is negative," Greenpeace says.

Weak social groups like women, youths and pastoralists (people living from livestock breeding) were expelled from the land through the increased commercialization of landed property for industrial food production and bio-energy, private game parks and other tourist facilities. Some non-governmental development assistance organizations rely on customary law to give these groups a legally secure access to land and other resources. This could also prevent the land robbery, that is the expulsion of people from their land by national elites and/or foreign corporations. In addition, the increasing speculation on real estate would be stopped.

The food crisis shows the connection between hunger, financial markets and stock exchange speculation. US and European pension funds invest their funds in raw materials. Besides oil, this includes foods like soy, wheat, and corn. They don't really buy these products but acquire futures contracts that are sold just before the due dates to buy new contracts with new terms. "They act like virtual hoarders or panic buyers," comments Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment strategist of Boston property manager Vitale Caturano & Co on this stock exchange-hunger madness. Korzenik insists the virtual stockpile of big investors inflates the prices on the raw material markets. This price spiral could turn even more as we see with the constantly soaring oil price. To buy up the entire US grain harvest, only $120 billion is needed according to estimates - a small sum for the speculators on the currency market where $3 trillion is moved every day.

The global distribution of food by the world market may not be allowed any more. Speculation on food is a crime and should be prohibited. The Indian government recognized this and prohibited all futures contracts on wheat, rice, a bean variety and herbs. This prohibition was recently extended to soybean oil, potatoes and (India) rubber. This example should set a worldwide precedent. Whoever makes profits through hunger is complicit in the deaths of thousands of people.

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