Look at the irony. People who are actually responsible for the global food crisis and the resulting increase in hunger are now coming together to show us the possible way out. The rich and industrialised countries, called the G-8, is attempting to identify guidelines for the development of farm policies at the global level so as to kickstart the economy in doldrums. These guidelines will then be 'forced down' the throat of the developing countries, a sure way to revive the agribusiness corporations and in turn the rich countries which are faced with an economic recession.
The G-8 Agricultural Ministers meeting is being held in Treviso in Italy from April 18-20. The meeting will be devoted to food security, to hunger in the world and to fluctuating farm prices in the marketplace.
Introducing the meeting, the Italian Farm, Food and Forestry Policies Minister Luca Zaia told newsperson that they will be attempting to identify guidelines for the development of farm policies, and submit these guidelines at the G-8 Summit in July. "It is our task to prepare a manifesto with which both countries and the major organisations can identify in the struggle against hunger in the world, and in their effort to guarantee food security and combat fluctuating prices while defending the identity of farm produce."
Farm Ministers of G-8 countries -- Italy, Canada, Russian Federation, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdon, and the United States -- along with agricultural ministers from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Egypt are attening the meeting. Also participating in the deliberations are the World Bank, the FAO, IFAD, the OECD, African Union, World Food Programme and the UN High Level Task Force on World Food Security.
This meeting actually is an extension of the global food security partnership that was first mooted at the FAO Summit in Rome in June. According the official website, it will promote more effective and consistent action both inside each country and at the global level. Italy's Foreign undersecretary V Scotti argued that, given the worldwide economic downturn, the time has come for countries, international institutions, NGO's and private-sector players to cooperate on "fostering a fresh boost to investment in the spheres of farming and food, and a search for innovative solutions to support small-scale producers and to set up social security networks".
It couldn’t have been better timed. The alarm bells have come at a time when the world is moving fast from agriculture to industrialization, from farming to corporate agriculture. With small farms being gobbled by big agribusinesses, farm land increasingly being diverted for industrial purposes, and the international focus shifting from staple foods to cash crops and now to bio-fuels, the world is now at the throes of an unprecedented food crisis. Much of the global crisis in food and sustainable agriculture is the result of Green Revolution (and now it is the turn of Africa to be devasted by AGRA), which is being further acerbated by the Gene Revolution.
The era of cheap food is over. The battle for food and fuel will further add to global hunger. The G-8 Agriculture Ministers unfortunately do not have the moral and political courage to even look beyond the industrial prescription being doled out by the agribusiness corporations. It will therefore be business as usual, except that this time business will be pushed aggressively.
At the root of the problem are the neoliberal economic policies that have shifted the focus from food self-sufficiency to free trade. It is no use blaming the rice producing countries, for instance, for declining production when the global effort is to force them to abandon measures that led to food self-sufficiency. Take the case of Indonesia. It was a net rice exporting country some 12 years back. Thanks to the shift in domestic policies resulting from the macro-economic thinking that it has now turned into one of the world’s major rice importer. What has happened in Indonesia is no exception. Many of the developing countries have now become food importer ever since the WTO came into existence in 1995.
This is exactly what the World Bank/IMF had been preaching for over 20 yeas now, and the WTO has merely legitimized it by providing legal teeth to it. The tragedy is that while the food crisis is being debated at one platform, the issue does not figure at another platform -- among the trade negotiators. No wonder, while world over there is an upheaval on the food front, trade negotiators are getting closer to signing the contentious Doha Development Round which will force the developing countries to open up their markets still further to imports of highly subsidies grains from the US and European Union.
It is time to reflect. Does the world need a WTO that actually turns developing countries into food importing countries? The world has to look for the real causes behind the prevailing crisis, and initiate steps that radically change the farming scenario providing emphasis on food sovereignty.
Instead the world is faced with yet another grave threat -- emanating from land grab in developing countries, which will have tremendous impact on the the way food is grown and the way future food insecurity will grow. You will see that the G-8 will remain silent on the emerging threat to world food security.
I draw your attention to an analysis entitled: Land Grab for Food Security: Corporatising Agriculture that I had written at the height of the global food crisis, for the Deccan Herald (Nov 13, 2008). Tomorrow, I will present My Vision for a Global Agriculture.
Land Grab for Food Security: Corporatising Agriculture
By Devinder Sharma
At the 150th commemoration of the Irish Famine held at Cork, Ireland, I vividly recall the mayor of the city tell the audience: “How barbarian was the society then that at a time when people were dying of hunger and starvation, corn was being loaded in ships for export to neighbouring Britain.”
Nearly 160 years after the great Irish Potato Famine, the world is preparing a fertile ground for yet another and more sinister barbaric act. This time, the world is witnessing a race to invest in overseas farmlands – buying hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile land – and turning them into food estates. Many of the food and financial companies investing in farmlands abroad are also bringing in their own farm workers and production technology and equipment.
The global financial meltdown had privatised the profits, and socialised the losses. The relatively new phenomenon of outsourcing food production – buying land overseas for growing food – will ensure food security for the investing country, and leave behind a trail of hunger, starvation and food scarcities for the native populations. The environmental tab of highly intensive farming – devastated soils, dry aquifer, and ruined ecology from chemical infestation – will be left for the host country to pick up.
In the name of food security, what is worrisome is that the global food production and distribution channel is actually getting into the hands of a few international agribusiness companies with tie ups with hedge funds. With large populations being displaced world over from such land takeovers, and with World Bank aggressively promoting it, control over food chain is increasingly being passed into the hands of private investment.
It is happening around the world. In India, as Karnataka prepares to lift restrictions on purchase of farm land in what appears to be a misguided attempt to attract investments, about 15 companies, led by the public-sector State Trading Corporation (STC), and including Gujarat Ambuja, Ruchi Soya industries and Jhunjhunwala Vanaspati Ltd., are already in the process of leasing 10,000 hectares of productive farmlands in Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil in Latin America, mainly to cultivate soybean and oilseeds. Indian companies are also moving into Burma to undertake production of pulses, and buying palm oil plantations in Indonesia. Australia and Canada are next on the land shopping list.
National laws are being suitably amended. The Indian Ministry of Food and Agriculture is backing the outsourcing initiative. The Reserve Bank of India through the Exim Bank is contemplating a change in the existing laws to provide loans to these companies to purchase land abroad. Not only in India, national laws are also being rewritten from Argentina to Mongolia, and from Australia to Russia, to facilitate the purchase of land overseas or allow foreign companies to buy land.
In Pakistan, in the throes of a food crisis, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani showed exuberance after his return from a state-visit to Saudi Arabia in mid-June. After all, in exchange for the desperately needed foreign investment, he had reportedly offered to sell thousands of hectares of productive farmlands. Meanwhile, Qatar is preparing to outsource its food production to Pakistan’s Punjab, where nearly 25,000 villages are faced with displacement. Saudi Arabia is also planning to acquire a 1.6 million hectares food estate in Merauke in Indonesia to produce rice for export back home.
Saudi Arabia is not the only gulf country looking for land elsewhere. A Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been constituted – with membership from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – scouting for overseas land in return for investments. Land deals have already been struck with Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Pakistan, Thailand and Burma in Asia; Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey in central Asia/Europe; and Sudan, Uganda in Africa. Realising that oil revenue alone cannot feed its populations, as seen in the recent global food crisis when food disappeared from the supermarket shelf, Gulf countries are investing for future food security needs.
China is emerging as a major player in land grab. After having increasingly divested its farm population from agriculture and moving them into the cities, China is now on a land buying spree. With some 30 land deals already known to have been signed, mostly in Africa, Central Asia, Australia and the Philippines, China has also prepared an agricultural policy on outsourcing food production. Most pf these deals are vbeing executed in a hush-hush manner. Interestingly, while China is looking for land outside its territory, agribusiness companies from Japan, South Korea and America are taking control over its own agribusiness activities.
The population shift in China – pushing farmers out of agriculture and moving them into the cities – has taken a heavy toll of the social fabric, marred by social unrest, often bloody. China Daily, the official organ of the Chinese government, had reported a massive increase in rural protests – from 10,000 a year some 11 years back to over 75,000 in 2005-06, which means roughly 250 protests a day. Rapid industrialisation in the countryside had played havoc with sustainable farming system, thereby necessitating search for farmland outside the country. India too, in a blind race to catch up with China, is following the same faulty policy prescription.
Egypt, which recently was faced with food riots, stirred a hornet’s nest, when it was divulged that a deal was underway to lease 840,000 hectares or 2.2 per cent of Uganda’s farm land, for wheat and maize production to be shipped back. At the same time, Egyptian farmers in Qena district were fighting a long-drawn battle to recover 1600 hectares of land owned by a Japanese agribusiness giant, Kobebussan. Many other countries face the same dilemma – while they are looking for land elsewhere, their own farmlands are being taken away by foreign companies.
According to a report “Seized: The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Financial Security” prepared by the Barcelona-based GRAIN, food corporates from Japan – including Asahi, Itochu, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi – have between 2006-08 leased and purchased hundreds of hectares of land in China, Brazil, Africa, and central Asia for organic food production. No wonder, with Japan not allowing corporates to own farmland, these companies are looking for greener pastures everywhere. South Korea, where the government is supporting outsourcing, is buying land in pristine Mongolia, thereby threatening one of the world’s naturally endowed ecosystems.
If you are wondering where the bailout package that taxpayers have heavily paid for have gone into, hold your breath. Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank are eyeing a takeover of China’s livestock industry. Morgan Stanley has purchased 40,000 hectares in Ukraine. Landkom, the British investment group has also bought 100,000 hectares of land in Ukraine. The two Swedish investing firms, Black Earth Farming and Alpcot-Agro, have purchased 331,000 hectares and 128,000 hectares of farm land in Russia, respectively. South Korean giant Daewoo has brought in the mother of all land-grabbing deals. It has taken on 99-year lease some 1.2 million hectares in Madagascar., half the total available arable lands in this African country.
The political economy of food is certainly being rewritten, with grave implications in store.