By Anuradha Mittal
Friday 25 April 2008
It's time to stop worshiping at the alter of "market forces."
riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help
people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes
of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled
World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year.
Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March - an increase of 50 per cent
in two weeks alone - while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year
As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea,
Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less,
the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their
income on food, and when the price goes up, they can't afford to feed
themselves or their families.
Analysts have pointed to some
obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose
economies are booming. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use
of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.
But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.
the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose
devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to
open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by
insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by
persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee,
cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries
into a downward spiral.
In the last thirty years, developing
countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into
large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept
commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad
harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp
rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.
Here's what we must do to prevent an epidemic of starvation from breaking out.
it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put
in place. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to
support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals
from U.N. agencies, which are desperately seeking $500 million by May 1.
we should help affected countries develop their agricultural sectors to
feed more of their own people and decrease their dependence on food
imports. We should promote production and consumption of local crops
raised by small, sustainable farms instead of growing cash crops for
western markets. And we should support a country's effort to manage
stocks and pricing so as to limit the volatility of food prices.
embrace these crucial policies, however, we need to stop worshipping
the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the
principle of food sovereignty. Every country and every people have a
right to food that is affordable. When the market deprives them of
this, it is the market that has to give.
Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute.
Food Riots Erupt Worldwide