portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

health | legacies

Hunger, The Silent Tsunami

Rice, the main food for nearly half of the world's population, costs twice as much as in December. The economic policy of the World Bank forced on countries on account of neocolonial trade relations is responsible for the unproductivity, not only small farmer system.

By Janosch Janglo

[This article published at www.linkezeitung.de is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. More articles are available at www.arbeitermacht.de.]

Advocates of the free market and competition invoke the blessings of global capitalism daily. However news about revolts because of hunger made headlines in the last weeks, not reports about growing markets, boom countries and high profits.

In Haiti, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, Maurania, Mozambique, Senegal and other countries, hundreds of thousands protested against inadequate food or unaffordable prices. Armed conflicts with the state sometimes occurred.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) declared that this "silent tsunami" was the greatest challenge in the 45-year history of the organization. The WFP has already ended its first relief programs since they cannot be funded any more because of soaring prices. "This is the new face of hunger. Millions of people now suffer acute hunger that they did not suffer six months ago," said WFP-executive director Josette Sheeran.

Food prices shot up recently to exorbitant levels. In January/February 2008 alone, food prices rose 55 percent and climbed another 20 percent in March. Rice, the main food for nearly half of the world population, costs twice as much as in December. The price explosion strikes "developing countries" especially the countries ruled by imperialism. 75 percent of them are net importers of food, above all in Africa. Countries like India, the second largest rice producer in the world and Cambodia have prohibited rice exports. Recently the Philippinos tried desperately to buy wheat in China since their own rice was running out.

The higher prices on the global market are not only a problem of these countries. In Germany, Hartz IV (German welfare reform combining income support and unemployment benefits and drastically reducing the duration of benefits) recipients and low wage earners and their families feel the rising food costs very intensely.


The media had immediate explanations for the misery. Expanded cultivation of plants for bio-sprit (biofuel) or the rising demand for food in China and elsewhere were offered as explanations. However a closer examination shows that the capitalist economic system in general or its crisis in particular leads to deaths by starvation, not individual causes.

The supply bottlenecks and the higher prices were not caused by a general lack of food. Despite global warming, worldwide grain production rose 5 percent in 2007, according to the data of the FAO. A record worldwide harvest is forecast for grain. On the other hand, the predicted 1.3 percent increase of the world population turns out to be less.

The fast rising prices for oil and fossil sources of energy triggered a worldwide boom in production of biofuel. The US seeks to reduce its massive dependence on crude oil through biofuel production. A third of its corn harvest is already in ethanol production. In Mexico, a food crisis occurred in 2007 on account of the exploding corn price. The US, the largest worldwide grain producer, gives 7.3 billion euro in subsidies for ethanol production. The corn price could rise another 25 percent by 2020
through biofuel production alone, fuel production from growing raw materials.

Still acreage and biomass are limited. An enormous waste of fossil energy is striking in industrial countries. Civil parliaments full of lobbyists obviously have little interest in lowering consumption or utilizing the incredible savings potential in energy- and material -intensive production.

The status quo should be maintained with the help of growing raw materials. The rising energy consumption should be eased and future bottlenecks in available crude oil cushioned. Germany will substitute 20 percent of conventional fuel by 2020. To that end, around 50 percent of the necessary biomass will have to be imported. In 2007, European Union corn imports nearly tripled within only a year compared to 2006 from 4.1 to 11.5 billion tons. With 1.9 percent, the cultivation of growing raw materials has a trifling share in available worldwide acreage, too small to be responsible for the extreme price jumps.


Nevertheless biofuel production is proffered as a main reason for the price increases to veil the real cause. In the long term, food production will rise because of the increasing acreage competition to food- and fodder-production.

That is the reason the biofuel sector is presently regarded as an investment field with high profit chances. Consequently many investors put their money in the lucrative biofuel market after the real estate bubble burst. So hedge funds within one-and-a-half years realized vast profits out of speculation with bio-raw materials.

The higher the commodity price inflation, the more investments are made in the hope of fat profits. Hedge fund activities have more than doubled in the last two years. In times of an extreme exploitation crisis of capital, vital goods like water become the target of speculators in the scramble for good investment possibilities.


Speculators get excited with natural disasters or bad grain harvests that reduce the supply on the world market and cause prices to skyrocket quickly.

Extreme weather increasing with global warming makes investments in this market so interesting because profit chances increase with natural shortages of products. In many countries that are main producers, the yields fall massively on account of droughts or floods. Australia - the fifth largest wheat producer - has experienced a drought since 2002 reducing yields up to 60 percent.

As a result, more than 10,000 farmer families have left their farms because they could not live from the proceeds of their fields, 10 percent of all Australian farmers within 5 years. Australia exports two-thirds of its agricultural commodities. Consequently Australia's agricultural export threatens to fall up to 79 percent by 2050. In 2006 Germany registered a yield decline of up to 35 percent in East German territories. In Thailand, drought now threatens the planned rice sowing in 55 of 76 provinces.

Worldwide yields threaten to decrease through global warming since the positive effects of higher CO2 emissions are more than neutralized by the higher temperatures and increased evaporization as well as more extreme weather. Cautious estimates assume a worldwide 4 percent decline in the grain harvest or 160 million tons. This could threaten another 120 million persons with death from starvation.

A yield decline from 14 to 24 percent is forecast for countries like Bangladesh with a largely small farmer structure. This shows that developing countries with extensive production will suffer greatly under the consequences of global warming.


The hard-as-nails trade and economic policy of the World Bank forced on these countries on account of neocolonial trade relations is responsible for the unproductivity, not only the traditional small farmer system.

Structural adjustment programs enforced in awarding credits press developing countries to open their markets for cheap imports from highly industrialized states and their whole agriculture to export. In intensive monoculture, coffee, cocoa, cotton and palm oil (cash crops), profitable and useful plants that can be sold quickly displace cultivation for domestic needs and the food supply of the local population.

Many small farmers are expelled from their fields by export-oriented large landed property owners for expanded acreage for cash crops. This leads to a massive rural exodus to the cities where former small farmers vegetate today in slums or try to escape to richer industrial states.

Countries south of the Sahara gain 90 percent of their export revenue from production of cotton. At the same time these countries are very dependent on wheat imports which they can afford less and less because of falling prices for cotton and simultaneously higher grain prices. To keep the level of export revenues high, the acreage for cash crops is extended more and more to the detriment of their self-sufficiency. This hunger spiral is caused by neocolonial policy.

To strengthen their control, the IMF and the World Bank lower income levels through austerity conditions for public spending, wage cuts, flexibility of labor markets and privatization of public enterprises. Thus the peoples' revolts against hunger in countries like Shad and Burkina Faso are not accidents. Screening imperialist countries against very reasonable agricultural products from developing countries has the same effect of repressing local food production. These subsidies are approximately four times as great as development assistance. Since European farmers produce gigantic surpluses especially in meat and milk, the EU spends 1.4 billion euro every year to squeeze surplus products on the world market. Consequently these highly subsidized products are incredibly cheap on the local markets of semi-colonial countries.

Cameroon is another example. Deep frozen pork from Europe is sold for a euro per kilo. Fresh local pork is 2.50 euro. The EU subsidizes every kilo with 31 cents. Every year 30,000 tons of meat are exported to West Africa from Europe. This represents the loss of 210,000 jobs in Africa. Since every job in Africa feeds approximately seven persons, 1.4 million people are hurled into poverty by these exports.


On the other side, changes in eating habits have occurred. White bread instead of millet seed is consumed in West Africa because of imports and declining local food production. Threshold countries like China and India with 2.4 billion inhabitants register a growing demand for grain, meat- and milk production, especially from the fast-growing middle class. Beside 45 percent of Chinese who must live with an income of less than 2 dollars per day, an urban middle class has formed in China which tripled per capita meat consumption since 1980. Milk consumption in 2007 doubled since 1990 to 25 kilo per capita. Meat consumption has increased 40 percent since 2002.

Hogs, cattle and chicken are fed with grain. 8 kilograms of grain are needed to produce 1 kilogram of beef. This has led to a double-digit inflation in threshold countries. Grain and the animals providing meat become more expensive through the much higher demand for fodder. Consequently the price for pork in China rose 58 percent last year.

Owing to the increasing industrialization and urbanization in China, one percent of acreage is lost every year (the size of Holland and Belgium together) which alone with meat production also intensifies acreage competition. This problem is not limited to China. Between five and seven million hectares of agricultural acreage is lost annually through erosion, salinization, drying up and overexploitation, a surface the size of Germany every five or six years. Thus less and less acreage is available to feed more and more people in a rapidly increasing world population. If 0.18 hectare per capita was cultivated in 1970; today per capita cultivation is down to 0.11 hectare.


All these causes of the hunger revolts show this is a crisis of the system - a product of the capitalist market itself. They reveal the anarchist character of the capitalist mode of production. This will even intensify through a massive exploitation crisis for lack of profitable investment possibilities in large parts of the world economy.

Raw materials like oil or food promise good profits. This battle is waged ever more ruthlessly and frequently ends in war and the impoverishment of millions.

Since capitalism creates its own gravediggers, global resistance against this system increases. Millions of workers, small farmers, youths and marginalized protest against the deterioration of their living conditions because of higher food costs. This resistance was often organized and ended in the plundering and destruction of businesses.

In April 2008 there were street battles with the police in the Egyptian city Mahalia al-Kubra. Civilian police occupied a textile factory with 27,000 employees to prevent an announced general strike and a plant expropriation. Mass arrests occurred. In a 14-point program, the textile workers demanded a higher minimum wage. Other residents also joined their protest against the repressive regime and the higher prices.

A new generation of self-assured and militant young workers leads worker struggles that have continued since 2006. At that time personnel, mainly women, fought with strikes and plant seizures, higher wages and food stamps. The Egyptian leaders feared these protests and now make available an additional $3.1 billion in subsidies.


The worldwide rebellions show a way out of crisis is only possible by overcoming capitalism. A democratically planned economy must replace the chaotic capitalist market where needs and sustainability and not profit interests determine production, where natural resources and processing industries are no longer exploited by private hands but work in directly socialized forms - in solving the social and ecological problems that capitalism has caused.

Therefore we demand:

Nationalization of the food industry, agricultural conglomerates and all natural resources under worker control without compensation!
Price control committees of workers and farmers to exclude speculation and usury and organize direct distribution of products between city and countryside!
Expropriation of large landed property owners, worker control over mammoth property, division of the land among farmers and support of cooperatives!
Abolition of IMF and the World Bank! Expropriation of banks and finance institutions under worker control!
Such a program can ultimately only be enforced by worker- and farmer governments with council-organs and arming the masses. Beside the above demands, such governments must also carry out the cancellation of debts and foreign trade monopoly and a democratic plan worked out for raising or restructuring agricultural production and improvement of the infrastructure.

Global hunger is a result of the capitalist form of production, a result of a global imperialist system.

Social revolutions in individual countries (or groups of countries) can be the starting point for overcoming the most pressing problems. The massive problems produced by capitalism in its imperialist stage and intensifying daily can only be solved on a global level in the framework of a socialist world society. Therefore every resistance movement and every revolutionary movement must set itself in the framework of a perspective of world revolution and permanent revolution from the beginning.

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.foodfirst.org