CALORIES ON THE TABLE, NOT IN THE TANK
While rich desert states rent arable acreage in Africa, millions of people there are threatened with death from starvation. Crops often serve gas production
By Elmar Altvater
[This article published in: Freitag, 3/19/2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/positionen/0912-gastkolumne.]
As everybody knows, the dogs bite the last. In the present financial- and economic crisis, these are the developing countries, even though the losses for states in the North cannot be denied. Losses will be felt before long in the treasuries of private and public budgets.
In Asia $9.6 trillion are already burnt, the Asian Development Bank estimates. This is roughly equal to the gross domestic product of a year. In other words, people on this continent worked for nothing for a whole year. The World Bank dramatizes. In 94 of 116 developing counties, growth rates will be negative; industrial production will fall 15 percent in 2009, the World Bank says. Unemployment increases everywhere along with the popularity of the informal sector of precarious working conditions with low wages and without social protection.
For decades nearly all countries of the third world had to follow the "Washington Consensus" - a strategy of opening to the world market where the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, big US banks on Wall Street and governments of OECD states forced them to change the terms of their debts. This neoliberal development model left behind a shambles: shriveling incomes, falling prices of export products, forced return of many work migrants to their homelands with the loss of their remittances making life possible for large families. In addition there were falling exchange rates and rising debts in foreign currencies. Even diehards in the international organizations recognize that this model breaks down at the end of the cul-de-sac. World trade shrivels for the first time since the end of the Second World War. More and not less people have to go hungry. The millennium goal of 2000 to cut hunger in half within a decade is regarded as unattainable.
Is it an expression of realism or cynicism when one reads in a newspaper commentary (Sueddeutsche Zeitung) that "hundreds of thousands will die of starvation" in Africa? The economy is a fate playing a very wicked game for many people. For others, the serious crisis offers nice chances. For example, transnational corporations are intent on walking off with Africa's best arable land. Even governments like some Gulf States and China seek to lease arable land in Africa for their own population - for 99 years. This can only happen if the governments join in the game either because the checkbooks of the foreign usurpers are thick and they are corru9pt or because they are so desperate and have no other choice than to take away the sources of food from their compatriots.
Crops are transformed to produce gas for automobile tanks, not flour. So the price of sugar, wheat and corn is determined by the price development of fossil fuels. When the price of oil falls, wheat and corn come on the market. If the price of oil rises, wheat and corn land in the tank, not on the table. All of our dependence on the automobile appears here most perversely. World Bank president ZoŽlick recently warned of an economic catastrophe for developing countries. This has long been the case in the poor countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe, not only in the industrial states. Beyond the economy, the outlines of a humanitarian tragedy are marked out. What are our priorities?