WORLD HUNGER: 800 million can't afford capitalism



The world has never produced so much food, there is no overall shortage and food has seldom been so cheap — yet some 800 million people are hungry today. That's the stark reality registered at the second World Food Summit held in Rome, June 10-13.

At the first World Food Summit in 1996 roughly the same number of people were starving and the assembled government heads resolved to halve that number by 2015. No significant progress has been made.

Most rich countries did not even send their leaders to this year's summit. US President George Bush had more important matters to attend to: announcing his "Titanic war on terrorism" (so far more than US$450 billion pledged) and defending his US$400 billion of new farm subsidies.

"With deepest respect", pleaded Australian Prime Minister John Howard before the US Congress on June 12, US farm subsidies "will damage Australian farmers". They will, but not as much as they will hurt hundreds of millions of poor people in the Third World.

As Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni told the World Food Summit: "Let us stop beating around the bush, the main causes of food shortages in the world are really three: wars, protectionism in agricultural products in Europe, the USA, China, India and Japan, and protectionism in value-added products on the part of the same countries."

By 2015, on current projections, world hunger will have taken another 122 million lives.

Just imagine what could be done with the US$850 billion the US plans to spend over the next decade on war and farm subsidies. World hunger could abolished, and along with it some of the real roots of "terrorism".

The problem is not one of mistaken policies. The problem is capitalism. Not imaginary, idealised, "free market" capitalism that we are urged to believe in, but "actually existing" global capitalism.

The rationality of this system can be gauged by the fact that it creates so much food that nearly half of it is thrown away as waste in the world's richest countries, while in the poorer countries 800 million people go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food.

Howard praised the Bush administration for its "world leadership" but guess what the US delegation to the food summit had to say about world hunger? The solution, according to the US delegation, was more trade liberalisation on the part of the Third World and greater use of bio-technology (patented and sold by the global corporations).

Never mind the fact that this means poor countries are being forced to surrender their food security, to sell off their emergency stocks and to dismantle the state marketing boards which traditionally control prices.

Never mind the fact that a few trading cartels will gain even greater domination of the world food market. And never mind the fact that food production techniques will become increasingly the private property of global corporations.

Under capitalism, world hunger is big business. The obscenely rich get even richer as they continue to profit from the daily misery of hundreds of millions of people.

From Green Left Weekly, June 26, 2002.
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