Saturday, 19 July 2008

people starve because of our greed

Photo: Morguefile

I don't really know any way to soften this. People are starving because of the greed of western countries. Consider these facts:

  • Over the last few decades, the developed world, through agencies like the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, loaned money to poorer countries for development, but with strict conditions. This "aid" tended to lead to farmers changing from subsistence crops to cash crops. It was said to more efficient, but some say it led to the farmers being dependent, and at the mercy of, big multinational corporations, and less protected by their Governments.
  • Sometimes the cash crops led to increased prosperity, but sometimes the vagaries of world markets led to profits being much less than envisaged. For instance, two decades ago, many farmers moved into high value coffee production only to see an oversupply and consequent drop in value.
  • Cash farming is based on the capitalist aim of maximising profit, so now that the world's supply of petrol is struggling to meet demand, production of biofuel is reducing the production of food. This is pushing up the price of food, sometimes beyond the ability of the poor to pay. 73 million people depend on food handouts from the UN to survive.
  • Ironically, capitalist farming and food distribution depend heavily on fuel for farm machinery and transport (cash farming tends to result in food being brought in from other areas). It has been estimated that it takes about 8 litres of petrol to produce a kilo of grain-fed meat - thus feeding a family of four in the US on meat requires about half the amount of petrol as that used by the family car.
  • Further, it takes a large amount of grain to produce a small amount of grain-fed meat (I have seen figures from 8 to 16 times). And it requires about 200 litres of water to produce a megajoule of most fruit and vegetables, but 2,500 litres of water to produce a megajoule of beef (CSIRO). Modern western meat production is highly inefficient at a time of impending food and water shortage.
  • A billion people in the world live in poverty while another billion are overweight. The richest 10% consume about 10 times the food that the poorest 10% consume. (SMH).
  • In summary, the western world's greed for petrol, rich foods and a high standard of living is not just an unfair distribution of wealth, but is a direct cause of food shortages and high food prices which leave poor people hungry.

So what of the future?

The world's population growth is slowing, but so is the world's food production. The pressure on the world's food supply will not come so much from the increasing population, because the highest population growth is generally in the poorer, low consuming countries (SMH). Rather, the pressure will come from the western countries maintaining their high consumption lifestyles as resources get tighter, and from developing countries raising the standard of living and becoming as greedy as the west.

But there are things we can do. I'll look at them in another blog.

1 comment:

  1. that's why they killed marie antoinette! it's a mighty bleak picture.


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