Friday, October 18, 2013

A New Future to Decide Upon

If aliens visited Earth  they would write us off as barbaric. Food, a limited yet renewable resource, is essential for human existence. Over time, it has evolved from a local resource held in common into a private, tradeable commodity. This process of commodification has involved the development of certain traits within food to fit the mechanized processes and regulations put in practice by the industrial food system. The industrial food system’s enclosure of food through the privatization of seeds and land, legislation, excessive pricing, and patents, has played a large role in limiting our access to food. The system now feeds the majority of people living on the planet and has created a market of mass consumption where eaters become mere consumers. As such, the industrial food system’s goal is to accumulate food resources while maximizing the profit of food enterprises, instead of ensuring food’s most important non-economic qualities, such as nutrition.

Within the mainstream “no money no food” worldview, hunger still prevails in a world of abundance. Globally speaking, the industrial food system is increasingly failing to fulfill its basic goals of producing food in a sustainable manner, feeding people adequately, and avoiding hunger. The irony is that half of those who grow 70% of the world’s food go hungry today.

 An industrial food system that views food as a commodity to be distributed according to market rules will never achieve food security for all. There won’t be a market-driven panacea for our unsustainable and unjust food system.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says 870 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished. One out of every four children in the world under the age of five is stunted. This means 165 million children who are so malnourished they will never reach their full physical and cognitive potential. Some 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste every year - around a third of the total food produced.  FAO said “with just a quarter of that, we could feed the over 800 million hungry.”

This question about “how to feed the world’s increasing population”, does it really mean we need to increase food production, or is it a question of re-prioritizing the what, how, and who of food production? It is not as if lack of agricultural production is the reason for the billion people who are hungry; after all, annual food waste (over a billion tons) itself is enough to take care of the food needs of the hungry people today, let alone the vast quantity of food crops that is diverted to bio-based products that are used as part of luxury consumption or as alternate fuel sources, let alone the vast quantities that are used for animal feed. Biofuels crops and burning of food for our cars compete with  food production, for the land and for the water that sustains food crops.  Those calling the tune are the powerful commercial interests capturing the benefits of high prices and subsidised demand for their products.

Too much of our agricultural production is large-scale, industrial production that only considers agricultural goods as tradable commodities. Vandana Shiva explains:
“The Green Revolution has been a failure. It has led to reduced genetic diversity, increased vulnerability to pests, soil erosion, water shortages, reduced soil fertility, micronutrient deficiencies, soil contamination, reduced availability of nutritious food crops for the local population, the displacement of vast numbers of small farmers from their land, rural impoverishment and increased tensions and conflicts. The beneficiaries have been the agrochemical industry, large petrochemical companies, manufacturers of agricultural machinery, dam builders and large landowners. The “miracle” seeds of the Green Revolution have become mechanisms for breeding new pests and creating new diseases.”

In 1970, Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in developing high-yielding varieties of wheat that was to transform India from a begging bowl to a bread basket. Yet, far from bringing prosperity the Green Revolution have left the Punjab riddled with discontent and violence. Instead of abundance, the Punjab is beset with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogged deserts and indebted and discontented farmers.

Capitalism is a self-interested, voracious system, but people possess a creative imagination and when buttressed by pressing necessity they can address the worst downsides of industrialism. Change comes about with a well-organised movement which is filled with optimism. The enemies of revolutionary change are cynical detachment, ignorance and indifference. Our economic system gives the power to decide most things to a small number of people who are only spurred by the greed for profits. Most of us must follow orders if we are to survive in today’s world. Acting like you don’t care is simply what it takes to successfully earn a living. Our ability to choose is confined to decisions like Coke versus Pepsi. We feel powerless because that is our reality. Taking responsibility requires taking power to build a world with a democratic economic system where we collectively decide what to produce and how, rather than let the profit motive decide all.


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