Capitalist Food Crisis: No End in Sight

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As the recent Rome summit of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) fades from the headlines (as few as they were in the U.S.), the workers and peasants of the world, and particularly those of the so-called Third World, are once again left to fend for themselves. No concrete measures were taken to put an end to the global food crisis. Prices of basic staple foods continue to rise in all countries and the talk shop of the imperialists, the UN, has taken no firm steps to stave off starvation and hunger. Their document, which pledges to cut the number of undernourished people in “developing” countries in half by the year 2015, outlines no plan by which to do so. Once again, the world’s powers attempt to don a mask of humanitarianism, but deliver only empty rhetoric

There is, however, a voice of dissent within the FAO. Countries like Nicaragua, Bolivia, Argentina and, most outspokenly, Venezuela, are stepping up and flat out denouncing the FAO summit as showboating and stage antics. Venezuela’s representative to the FAO, Gladys Urbaneja Duran, gave the most forthright analysis of the FAO’s farcical document, saying that the food crisis is, in fact, “The biggest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model."

Expensive FoodAs Andy Viner of Socialist Appeal (UK) pointed out in a recent article, the world’s food prices have increased, on average, 75 percent since 2005. The problems are magnified in countries such as Haiti, where the majority of food products in the past were grown locally. Now, foreign products have flooded the market and many poor peasants are being washed out by a wave of foreign imports. Every year 10 million children die of poverty-related ailments due to malnourishment, currently most prevalent in Nepal, Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa. Eight hundred and fifteen million people are deemed “undernourished” by the UN and 852 million are deemed “hungry,” which means they cannot acquire enough food to sustain a healthy caloric intake each day

Even in the United States, the richest country on earth, 10 percent of the population relies on government food aid. More than half of all food stamp benefits are used on children and for many families, once the children are fed, the parents go hungry

In answer to the U.S. FAO representative’s position that the cause of rising food prices was due to increased Chinese and Indian demand, Urbaneja said, “The main reason for the rise in food prices isn’t growing demand from the Indian and Chinese markets, or the rise in petroleum prices. The main reason is that food has been turned into yet another object of market speculation."

In our opinion, Venezuela’s stance at the summit was quite right. Compounded by free trade agreements used to dump food commodities on smaller and weaker markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa on behalf of the U.S. and other imperialist powers, poor countries are in an untenable situation. There is a one-sided war of attrition being waged against small producers worldwide by big U.S., European and Japanese agricultural firms.

MercalVenezuela has taken some steps domestically to fight the effects of food shortages. The state-run Mercal system is a network of subsidized grocery stores which provide food and other products at discounts averaging 25 to 50 percent.

This counter-measure against the agro-giants is a good first step and the workers and poor of Venezuela have greatly benefited from it. Other countries would do well to adopt such a model. However, only when the world’s food production and distribution is run under democratic workers’ control and management will we really conquer the hunger problem for good. The anarchy of the profit-driven world market is the root cause of the food crisis. Only the end of capitalism and the establishment of world socialism will end it once and for all.

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