Betting on hunger…

Posted September 30th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Betting on hunger…

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I could also title this post, fighting for the right to eat – because it looks more and more like this will be one of our epic struggles of the future.

Last March I collaborated with the Peace and International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee on a lecture series around the theme, who will control the things we need for life? We were not just trying to be provocative. There is growing evidence that corporations are vying to get control of access to the world’s remaining arable land, to control the global ag market from seeds to harvest and everything in between. Battles are being waged in international financial and trade institutions for privatization of water rights, which would allow corporations to control access even to the rain that falls from the sky (I am not making this up. There are places where regulations of water rights have led to prohibitions on rain barrels and other methods of collecting rainwater.)

Anyway, the series was illuminating and terrifying. While we are all hooked to our smart phones and iPads, watching reality TV and ranting at cable news pundits, corporations have been in the process of trying to lock in their control of the things we need for life – not just energy anymore, but also food and water. If we are not careful, we will wake up one day in a futuristic world described in Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing – a world in which “The Stewards” have taken complete control of who gets water and therefore who lives and who dies.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Why is this happening? You know, I go out and do presentations about ecological overshoot, about how we have pushed beyond the earth’s limits to support our consumption of her precious life-giving resources, and while most people ‘get it,’ the impact just doesn’t quite settle in. Scarcity? Actual physical limits to the amount of food and water available to us? But the grocery store shelves are still full and the water still runs freely out my tap!! So this is a future problem, right? And we’ll get a handle on this, won’t we?

But there is no surer sign at the moment that scarcity is not our future but our present than what is happening to food prices. This is capitalism itself giving us the signals. When water and land are abundant, their economic value is low. When they become scarce, they begin to become valuable, they become worth the investment. And once they become commodities in a global market ruled by corporations, they are no longer human rights, they are objects become subject to financial speculation, to the logic of profit-making. At that point, the right to food and water begins to seriously erode (share this with your ‘right to life’ friends and see how they respond).

Now we are entering a new era in the global food market – because all the drivers that brought about the crashes and the collapse of the housing market and the collapse of the financial system are now being directed to the food commodity market. Investors who once bet on the failure of subprime mortgages are now betting on the looming stresses on availability of arable land and on food scarcities which are driving up prices of both. Speculators are lining up to make money off their bets that prices will continue to rise – which is what happened to the housing market with the results we have all come to know only too well. Among our losses, the collapse of the financial future of millions upon millions of working Americans. Now these same speculators are playing with our right to eat.

“The boom [in the price of ag land in Iowa] is driven in part by agribusiness expansion, but also by a new player in the agriculture game: private investment firms. Both are bidding up land values for the same reason: the price of food.

“They’re betting on hunger, and their reasoning, unfortunately, is sound. This is bad news for would-be small farmers who can’t afford land, and much worse news for the world’s hungriest people, who already spend 80 percent of their income on food.”

So writes food journalist Ari Le Vaux in this article on Alternet.

I know it is heterodox economics these days to say that capitalism does not work. But if we are talking about human dignity and well-being on a healthy planet vibrant with life forms and natural abundance, then this system is more than failed; it is actually driving us straight towards multiple crises at which our survival is at stake. Last time I checked, we all still needed to eat and drink in order to live. Once capitalism makes these things dear and therefore valuable in financial investment terms, our access to these things we need for life becomes threatened.

Closing off access to food and water has been a weapon of the powerful throughout human history. In our country now, we have allowed big corporations to become more powerful than government, and government is the place where people can exercise their own power and have their rights protected. The more we hand the public sector over to the corporate sector, the more we lose our ability to shape our own lives, and the life of our communities and our society. The more we allow the things we need for life to be commodities for financial speculation, sources of profit for investors, with less and less government regulation, the more we jeopardize our future ability to eat and drink, and then to eat and drink what is healthy and good for us.

And that’s why urban gardens and farmers markets are not yet enough. Also required is engagement in movements to defend our rights to have access to what we need for life. Also required is a political engagement to wrest control of these things from investors who have only one goal in mind – good results for their stockholders in the next quarterly profit report.


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