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Food rebellions! Crisis and the hunger for justice

Food rebellions

By Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel with Annie Shattuck
Published by Pambazuka Press
Website: www.pambazukapress.org
2009, 260pp, ISBN 978 1 906387 30 3(Pb), £16.95

The 'food rebellions' of the title reflect the past and the future: the violent demonstrations in some 30 countries in 2007/8 that followed the doubling of the price of staple grains in 2006/07, and the civil unrest that is likely to recur if access to food is not addressed. Current estimates are that global food production must be doubled by 2040 if demand is to be met, and the authors of Food rebellions present their views of how this may be achieved.

Food rebellions follows Food wars: the publication of two such similar titles in such swift succession reflecting both the urgency of the global food crisis, and the authors' determination not to let the food crisis be overshadowed by the financial and climate-change crises. Indeed, the inter-relationship and feed-back between food production, climate and economics is a repeating theme.

If one adds water shortage and the growing trend to produce crops for agrofuels, the challenge and choices facing farmers, their advisers and politicians are stark. IFPRI is quoted: "Depending on rates of agrofuels expansion, by 2020 the global price of corn will increase by 26-72% and the price of oilseeds by 18-44%. With every 1% rise in the cost of food, 16 million people are made food insecure."

The authors of Food rebellions insist that there is no alternative but to radically rethink the basis on which food production is organised. Fine-tuning is not an option because they believe that the existing system is a prime cause of the problem, not the basis for a solution.

As with Food wars, the main criticisms of the authors of Food rebellions are levelled at the dominance of world agriculture by a handful of major transnational companies which, they say, manipulate prices of inputs and outputs, making vast profits for their shareholders but leaving destitute many from whom they buy and sell. And, they believe, the international institutions that have the greatest potential to assist farmers with advice and finance - IMF, World Bank, US and EU aid agencies - are at best complicit in the continuing status quo, largely because of self-interest.

The authors propose a reversion to small family farms, with farmers empowered to develop 'food sovereignty' - people's self-government of the food production and marketing systems. To justify their confidence, the authors of Food rebellions quote the World Bank Report which revealed that small farmers in five Latin American countries had produced 3 to 14 times the yield per acre than their larger neighbours. But such production needs protection from subsidised, cheap exports from industrialised countries. For example in Ghana, 95 per cent of poultry consumed in 1992 was from domestic production; by 2000, following imports of subsidised chicken from the US and EU, share of local poultry had dropped to 11 per cent.

How realistic are the criticisms made and the solutions offered? It would be easy - and a mistake - to dismiss Food rebellions as a socialist diatribe against capitalism. But this book is written at a time of crisis when all suggestions deserve careful consideration to serve a common interest. The point is made that the food crisis is global and the authors conclude, "The food crisis has brought us together. We can end the injustices that cause hunger. There has never been a better time."

Date published: January 2010


Have your say

That's not just logic. That's ralely sensible. (posted by: Estella)


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