A time of great change is upon us. In the last few weeks there were riots in the streets of Egypt, Somalia, Haiti, Morocco, Madagascar, Thailand and Mauritania. And this is just the beginning. Here in Canada, Filipinos are buying up rice and shipping it back home to the Philippinnes, another country that may soon see rioting.
The people in these nations were not rioting over politics or ideology. They were not rioting because of religion or human rights abuses by their respective governments. They were rioting because they are having trouble feeding their kids. World hunger and starvation have always been present in developing (and developed) countries but this time is different. This is no isolated incident caused by the failure of local crops or a particularly bad harvest. In fact, just like the oil supply, the global supply of food currently exceeds the demand. Global hunger is on the rise, not because food is unavailable but because it is becoming increasingly unaffordable. When someone becomes unable to feed their family, all bets are off. Political loyalties, culture and religion all go out the window to make way for the number 1 priority- survival. If the situation lasts long enough that people can't feed their kids, blood does indeed run in the streets until some sort of resolution (for better or worse) to the crisis is reached. Why is this happening now? Please read along.
More than 2.2 billion people on this planet (that's 1/3 of humanity, which is 7 times the population of the U.S) spend more than 75 % of their income entirely on food. In the last year, the price of rice has doubled, wheat prices have increased 30% and corn has increased 74%. Traditionally, folks in poorer countries have typically been able to feed themselves on 1 to 2 dollars per day (US equivalent) but with the rising costs of staple foods they can simple no longer afford to do this unless their incomes go up (I don't see a pay raise for 2.2 billion people coming anytime soon, do you?) The reason why food prices have gone up across the board so much is complicated, but there is someone to blame. Ourselves. That's right, us. All of us. Not just the U.S, or Canada, or the U.K. It's not just China's fault, or the middleast, or all the developing countries that are now experiencing food riots. As a species we have been complicit in accepting a vision of globalized trade that now threatens to starve and impoverish 30 % of our entire population. We bought into a lie that promised to usher in a new age of prosperity that would uplift all mankind. Instead we are now in a situation in which many will drown while the few crowd aboard air-conditioned, wi-fi connected yachts with helipads.
The developing countries of the world at one time were able to produce much of their food locally. By no means was this perfect and there were indeed many droughts in localized instances. But in the bigger scheme of things, these countries were largely able to meet their food needs without having to import staples like wheat, rice or corn. Then the IMF came along and convinced them to get in on the game of globalization. We told them that if they wanted to get their slice of the international trade pie, they had to play by our rules. Playing by our rules meant they had to stop growing food to feed their people and start growing cash crops which they could then export and sell to other countries. Things like tobacco, coffee beans, strawberries etc. Nevermind that this quite often involved our companies moving in and setting up shop to reap most of the financial rewards (Dole, United Fruit, the list is long) With most of what little arable land these countries had now in the hands of big multinational companies, vast amounts of staples had to be imported just to feed their people. Instead of growing rice and wheat locally, now it had to be purchased and shipped in from overseas.
This worked for awhile. Although these countries remained dirt poor while big overseas business reaped the rewards, folks were able to afford to eat. Granted, 75 % (in some cases 90%) of a person's income went to food leaving little else for investment on the Nasdaq. Now that the price of staples have more than doubled, suddenly a lot of folks are getting priced out of the audacious luxury of being able to afford 1500 calories per day. The agri-businesses that run the tobacco and coffee plantations couldn't care less that the people in these countries are having trouble eating. They put on a concerned face and give a few million, which is a paltry sum considering the profits they're rolling in, most often tax free (another pre-condition imposed by the IMF and global free trade zealouts) Sorry kiddo, times are tough they say.....and so says the IMF to the governments of these countries too.
In regards to the high food prices, that is also our fault. It's our fault because we let it happen and I quote from Jean Zeigler- "The immediate cause for the rise in food prices is the speculation in commodities mainly at the Chicago stock exchange. One thousand billion dollars of the world money supply have been lost between October and January through market speculation on the world's stock exchanges. The big speculators, the hedge funds – that's not the Red Cross, – now speculate in soya, rice, millet, wheat and corn. They are looking for maximum profit in agricultural raw materials and are thus pushing the prices up to an explosive level. They can buy up Brazil's entire soya harvest with only 5 % of real capital. This way they risk very little if the harvest turns out to be less than expected but they stand a good chance of making astronomical profits."
We created financial machinery that makes it possible to inflate the value of staple food-stuffs to astronomical highs, thus causing massive profits for investors while leaving no option but starvation for the poorest 30 % of our species. We convinced the world's poorest countries to give their agricultural production to our companies for cash crop exports, thus making them almost entirely dependent on purchasing food from us to feed their people. And they bought into it. Their leaders certainly aren't starving, as the big business that's profiting knows they have to keep the local governments and militaries on their side with some of the profits.
We sit back and fret about the cost of filling our gas tank, while families across the globe worry about their next meal. We sit here and pontificate about the "threat" of Iran (who hasn't started an aggressive war with anyone in the last 25 years) while in cities across the world spontaneous riots are breaking out over the most basic of human needs. Riots which, if we all would have seen the sham that globalization is, would never have happened. We cluck our tongues about needing to increase oil production at home and energy policy. We talk about the utter farce that will be the presidential election and who got voted off on American Idol.
Meanwhile, we remain blind to what is really going on; Rome is burning. Hungry people don't stay hungry for long. Either the situation changes so that the hungry have access to food, or they starve and die. This causes the human survival instinct to kick in which should never be underestimated. Entire nations and cultures have been toppled over food. Marie Antoinette once said "let them eat cake" in response to the poor of France going hungry.... and so came the french revolution which changed the west forever.
Global "free" trade is a prescription for the misery of billions so that a few million can profit enormously. It knows no national affiliation or political ideology. It does not prefer the good of one nation over another (a lesson the U.S may come to learn painfully in the coming years with it's national debt) It doesn't give two rips about conservative vs liberal or any such bullshit. It doesn't distinguish between Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Budhist. It sees people and resources as the same things; items to be exploited for maximum profit. Once that profit has been attained, the item (whether it be a human being or natural resource) is to be discarded. Welcome to the world of the throwaway person. Welcome to the 21st century.