above, for articles in
New Green Revolution and World Food
Raj Patel and Eric Holt-Giménez
It was just a matter of time…
and not long at that. The world food crisis and the explosion of “food riots”
across the globe has been turned into an opportunity. By whom? By the same
institutions that created the conditions for the crisis in the first place:
proponents of the new Green Revolution.
In their April 10 editorial
entitled The World Food Crisis, the New York Times warns that increases of
25-50% in the price of food and basic grains have sparked unrest “from Haiti to
Egypt.” The Times rightly lays part of the blame on the doorstep of northern
countries’ thirst for ethanol, pointing out that the substitution of fuel crops
for food crops, “[Accounts] for at least half of the rise in world corn demand
in each of the past three years.” A rise in demand means a rise in price. This
puts food out of reach of poor consumers.
But then confusing economic
demand with actual availability, the Times jumps to a dubious solution. Quoting
World Bank president Robert Zoellick, the paper calls for “[A] ‘green
revolution’ to increase farm productivity and raise crop yields in Africa.” This
was of course, a likely response from the World Bank, the institution that,
along with the International Monetary Fund, forcibly applied the Structural
Adjustment Programs (SAPs) responsible for destroying the capacity of African
nations to develop or protect their own domestic agricultural systems from the
dumping of subsidized grain from the U.S. and Europe. Over the same 25 years in
which SAPs were being implemented, the Consultative Group for International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) invested over 40% if its $350 million/year budget
in Africa’s “Green Revolution.” The result? A big zero. Actually, it was worse,
because as African marketing boards, agricultural ministries, national research
programs and basic infrastructure fell under the scythe of the mighty SAPs,
Africa’s agricultural systems steadily eroded. Now their entire food systems are
hopelessly vulnerable to economic and environmental shock—hence the severity of
the current food price inflation crisis.
How do CGIAR and other Green
Revolution champions explain this debacle? The Green Revolution, they claim,
‘bypassed” Africa. If that is the case, then where on earth did CGIAR spend all
that money? If not, and the Green Revolution was simply a failure, then how will
more of the same solve the present food crisis?
Of course, the Green
Revolution is not just one institution, and it is not static. The new
genetically-engineered Green Revolution is a conglomeration of public and
private research institutions, supported by both tax dollars and conditional
investments from a handful of powerful seed/chemical and fertilizer monopolies.
The Green Revolution is an industrial modernization paradigm, as well as a
campaign for penetrating agricultural markets in the Global South. But above
all, the Green Revolution is a political strategy designed to gain and keep
control over the Global South’s food systems firmly in the hands of northern
corporations and institutions. It is precisely this political dimension of the
current food crisis that is so tacitly avoided by the New York Times, the World
Bank, and other Green Revolution promoters.
The politics of food,
however, are inescapable. Food First associate Raj Patel, author of the
recently-released book Stuffed and Starved
(http://stuffedandstarved.org/drupal/frontpage), points out that “food riots”
have to be understood historically, in the context not of shortages, but of
poverty, not of lack of technologies, but of lack of
“Historically,” writes Patel, “there are two things to look
out for. The first is a sudden and severe entitlement gap; a gap between what
people believe they’re entitled to and what they can in fact achieve.
Agricultural prices have risen because of a perfect storm of biofuels, rising
meat consumption, oil price increases, low grain reserves, and bad harvests.
That inflation has meant that people believe they ought to be able to feed their
families at one level, but end up being able to feed them significantly less.
The existence and spread of this entitlement expectation gap is one of the
things that matters in the precipitation of food riots.
But there’s a
second element. Riots tend to occur in places where there isn’t any other means
of making the government listen. It’s a sign, in other words, that democratic
proscesses do not exist or have been exhausted. Haiti has long been beset by
political instability, and now led by U.S. backed, president, René Préval. He
recently commanded people to return to their homes, perhaps not realizing that
through their protests, the people were commanding him to make their food
But the real question here is why governments are unable to
respond to the needs of their citizens. There are two answers. First, the
policies that would mitigate the price rises (grain reserves, tariffs, social
expenditure for poor people) have all been eroded by decades of neoliberal and
free market global trade and development policy.
In order to implement
this policy, governments have had to close their ears to the demands of their
people. The World Bank won’t give loans without ‘structural adjustments’ that
cut deeply into social programs. There has been a strong financial incentive, in
other words, for governments to behave less democratically.”
protests—over 50 people have been killed in the last two months—are less chaotic
riots of starving people than they are angry rebellions of hungry people fed up
with the inequitable global food system. The solution to the present food crises
is not bringing in the institutions of “disaster capitalism” that created the
disaster in the first place. The solution is to democratize the world’s food
systems, taking the control away from the handful of agri-food oligopolies and
putting it back in the hands of the farmers and consumers who are supposed to
benefit from agriculture.
Raj Patel is the author of
"Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System" and
Eric Holt-Gimenez is the Executive Director of Food First
This essay was
originally published by Pambazuka News. Pambazuka
News is the weekly electronic forum for social justice in Africa,
www.pambazuka.org (Pambazuka means arise
or awaken in Kiswahili) it is a tool for progressive social change in Africa.
Pambazuka News is produced by Fahamu, an organization that uses information and
communication technologies to serve the needs of organizations and social
movements that aspire to progressive social change. This essay is herein
reprinted with the author's permission.
Posted May 04,
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