Friday, June 06, 2008

Food Policies Leave People Hungry

By Yifat Susskind

This week the U.N. convened world leaders in Rome to hammer out solutions to the food crisis. Once again policy leaders are forgetting that food is about people. Over the past few months, 30 countries have been wracked by food riots. The government of Haiti has been toppled. Rice reserves in the Philippines are now under armed guard. And U.S. corporate agribusinesses have a starring role in this disaster. Farmers in poor countries have gone broke by the millions because they can't compete with the artificially low prices of U.S. food imports.

Take Mexico, for example. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. demanded that Mexico open up its markets to cheap U.S. corn. Since NAFTA took effect, U.S. corn exports to Mexico have tripled, flooding the Mexican market and causing domestic corn prices to drop by more than 70 percent. As a result, most of the country’s 15 million corn farmers have gone from being poor -- but getting by -- to watching their children go hungry. Mexican President Felipe Calderon explains the food crisis in his country as a direct outcome of U.S. food policy.

The same story is repeated in nearly every country where the food crisis is raging. Millions of rural families from Colombia to Cameroon have been forced to go from growing their own food to buying imported staple items, putting them at the mercy of global markets. In the past year, the costs of basics like corn, rice, and wheat has doubled and tripled. Farming families whose livelihoods were destroyed by U.S. agribusiness can no longer afford to buy food from these same companies. That injustice -- not any absolute “food shortage” -- is at the heart of today’s crisis.


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