Socialist Worker

Plenty of food, no democracy

Issue No. 1688


Plenty of food, no democracy

By Andrew stone

EVERY DAY 800 million people on the planet go hungry. This kills more than 12 million children under five each year. That is equivalent to the instant death toll from the Hiroshima bomb happening once every three days. Yet according to an excellent new book, World Hunger: 12 Myths, "Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the supply of food in the world today." That is because "the root cause of hunger isn't a scarcity of food or land; it's a scarcity of democracy".

The authors brilliantly expose the myths that present famine as a "natural" disaster. Take the example of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland in 1845 - 9, which killed over one million people. Textbooks often describe the potato blight that triggered it as an unstoppable force of nature. Yet during that period Ireland exported more food than it imported. It was more profitable for the landlords and merchants to sell food abroad than allow the impoverished mass of farmers to feed themselves.

World Hunger points out that every day the world produces enough grain to provide every person on the planet with 3,500 calories, which is well above the recommended adult level. And that is without the fruit, vegetables, meat and fish produced.

Technology is at a level where no one need starve. But instead of being used for society's benefit, corporations use that technology to increase their market share, and thus their hold over economies. Even aid programmes serve the dictates of the market rather than the needs of the hungry. The US legislation that brought in the Food for Progress scheme boasted that it was "designed to expand free enterprise elements of the economies of developing countries through changes in commodity pricing, marketing, import availability and increased private - sector involvement". The world's ten poorest countries got only 5 percent of US economic aid in 1994. Egypt and Israel, two strategically important US allies, received almost a third. Food aid pales in comparison with military aid, which in America is six times greater.

Hunger, argue the authors of World Hunger, stems from the orientation of production for profit, which often means famine - stricken countries exporting mountains of food and big corporations creating an artificial scarcity by hoarding it to drive prices up. The authors are clear that hunger is not confined to the Third World-26 million Americans receive hunger relief, and the child mortality rates for African - Americans can be higher than those in Cuba or Bolivia.

Western workers do not benefit from the extreme poverty of the Third World: "For every dollar a US consumer spends to buy cantaloupes grown in El Salvador, less than a penny goes to the farmer, while traders, shippers and retailers receive 88 cents." They argue the free marketeers responsible for world hunger are the same ones promoting the "race to the bottom"-the idea that workers globally have to work longer and longer hours for less and less pay in order to compete with foreign workers.

But the authors of this book fall prey to one myth-that governments as they exist today can be cajoled into rejecting the market. While the authors recognise that the entrenched interests of profit will not quietly concede, they conclude that we need grassroots action that appeals to "enlightened governments".

This ultimately means overlooking our greatest strength, our ability to organise collectively at the point of production. However, do not let this one weakness put you off a great piece of ammunition against the sickening nature of capitalism.

  • World Hunger: 12 Myths, edited by Frances Moore Lapp�, �12.99, plus �1.95 postage and packing. Available from Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, phone 020 7637 1848.

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Sat 18 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1688
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