Big shots in suits are now talking about agriculture in a new way. For a couple of decades or more, international movers and shakers — the people who want to cause seismic changes in the world — have been determined to remove rural poverty in the Third World, by getting farmers to de-camp into the town and work in factories, where they can be usefully employed making trainers and fashion garments.
Governments in the West have wanted those left in agriculture to get away from farming and, instead, to create folksy industries centred on the environment and crafts.
Meanwhile, between 1990 and 2006, there’s been another kind of manipulation.
‘Getting farmers to work for nothing’ by keeping farm gate prices to a minimum has been the unwritten code of governments and major corporations. It helps the profits of grain traders like Cargill as well as retailers like Tesco, and the policy puts a useful lid on any measure of inflation, so helping governments achieve their economic targets.
The decline in world stocks of cereals has been a long-term trend known to anyone who has the slightest appetite for such figures. UN leaders like Sir John Holmes, would, should, have known about this trend for three years or more.
When Josette Sheeran, Director of the UN World Food Programme, said last month: “We are seeing a new face of hunger. We are seeing more urban hunger than ever before. We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it.” the economist in me said, “You could, should, have seen this coming, and instead you should be saying, ‘We told you this would happen if farming was neglected and manipulated.’ “
Food stocks didn’t disappear overnight. For years, cereal consumption has been greater than production. In 2006 there was a yawing 100-million-ton deficit, yet these leaders said and did nothing. Their hope seemed to be that world farmers would increase production despite the ludicrously low prices that were being paid by the world trade.
When Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, said, “Many more people will suffer and starve” unless the US, Europe, Japan and other rich countries provide funds to boost the aid programme so it continues to feed 73 million people, a number that is rapidly increasing because prices of all staple foods have risen 80% in three years, the economist in me said that your organisation has frittered billions of dollars over the past 15 years on all kinds of social programmes, yet has failed to ensure that there’s food in people’s bellies. Why? Because you have been content to see world farmers exploited for a cheap food policy.
In the UK, Professor John Beddington, the new chief scientific adviser to the Government, warns that the effects of the food crisis will bite more quickly than climate change and that agriculture needs to double food production. Yet he has no suggestions to help achieve this goal.
World farm policy over the past 15 years or more has been a disgrace. Farmers young and old have fled the industry; farm colleges and courses have closed; farmers have been allowed to become basket cases supported by environmental hand-outs, the bulk of which goes to those least in need. Charities which help farmers get over depression have become increasingly busy and well funded.
Meanwhile, commentators remain tight-lipped about other major issues of world food policy. Nobody talks about the effects of speculators, the international investors who have been pushing up the prices of food commodities for their own profit. The vast increase in the volume of commodities futures trading, and the growth of ‘commodity funds’ that allow everyone with money to invest to get into corn and pork bellies, has had a fundamental effect on the price of grain and meat, with much of the extra value going into traders rather than farmers’ pockets.
Neither do commentators mention the savage decimation of the industry in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan and other parts of the world, countries which some 30 years ago had significant exportable surpluses but which today have their hands out for aid and charity. http://www.farmideas.co.uk/newsdetailed.php?id=52
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