For the nearly one billion hungry people on the planet, World Food Day means little: they have neither the time nor the strength to demand the support that the world community has agreed to give them but failed to provide so far because of a global socioeconomic system based on selfishness.
October 16, when this Day is observed, also marks the anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), founded in 1945. Declared in 1979 by the FAO Conference and made official in 1980 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, World Food Day seeks to "raise public awareness about the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty".
About 30% of the world's population suffers from some form of malnutrition, with half of all known diseases ascribable to hunger, poor nutrition or vitamin and mineral deficiency.
FAO data have it that in order to meet the goals laid down in 1996 by the World Food Summit to cut by half the number of undernourished people by 2015, 22 million people must be kept from being hungry every year.
But it happens that not even a third of that figure has managed to escape the horror of not having the food they need to survive. This is not counting those who are jobless or not eligible for social security benefits and therefore join the ranks of the underfed every year.
Neoliberal globalization and privatization are to be blamed for the current food disaster, significantly fueled as well by the usual injustice –which grows rather than subside– in North-South relations, based on unequal exchange, brain-drain policies, and the plundering of poor nations of their natural resources.
According to estimates, an additional 25 to 30 billion dollars’ worth of aid per year are required to halve the number of hungry people. As a rule, however, those who hold the world’s wealth reject multilateral cooperation and only listen to bilateral proposals entailing financial contributions contingent on terms that allow them to get around, in the medium- or long-term, the needy nations’ food self-sufficiency.
The World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), influenced by a manipulative U.S. Treasury and the big agribusiness corporations, have seen to it this sector makes a beeline for the liberal economic practices which are deemed by far the main culprit for today’s crisis.
Yet, this is not a new outbreak of a circumstantial situation, but a process with deep roots in a worldwide economic and commercial system created by the neoliberal obsession of Bretton Woods economic institutions –namely WB and the IMF. They are bent on setting up a global free-trade system that makes it possible for big business in the rich countries to do what best suits their mean interests.
The IMF’s Structural Adjustment Plans have made poor countries rely on exports by specializing in an intensive agriculture largely dependent on mechanization, chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The foods thus produced become exportable goods sold at a market price very few southern countries can afford.
The high mobility of capital caused by this phenomenon has fostered speculative investments in the food market. The financial markets have reacted by building up claims on these products, thus accelerating the growth in demand and, therefore, rising prices. These markets not only sell tangible products but also futures.
A rise in the retail price index hardly helps producers, as it only affects one end of the production-consumption chain in a food and agriculture market where large companies have control over everything from the relationship with the growers to retail trade.
Only an international order that fully reverses today’s structure of relationships and provides a preferential and differentiated treatment to nations with fewer resources through unconditional cooperation will deflect us from the path of self-destruction that a hunger-triggering neoliberal globalization has forced us to take.
Let this be known very clearly on a World Food Day wracked by a serious crisis.
*Manuel E. Yepe Menéndez is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He was Cuba’s ambassador to Romania, general director of the Prensa Latina agency; vice president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television; founder and national director of the Technological Information System (TIPS) of the United Nations Program for Development in Cuba, and secretary of the Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
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