Food sovereignty or Slavery -

Food sovereignty or Slavery -

By Aurelio Suárez Montoya

Paper presented by Aurelio Suárez Montoya, Executive Director of the National Association for Agricultural Salvation, to the Congress "For the Right to be Free from Hunger - Food Security". (UNISARC- Risaralda Government- Santa Rosa de Cabal, October 25, 2002)


What the FAO report does not emphasize strongly enough is that, in the face of this picture of pain, contrary to what happened in Babylon and Ur de Chaldea, which over time failed because they could not produce food for their members, today there is a productive capacity on the planet to feed twelve billion people, twice the existing population. This situation is explained by Lester Thurow: "The world can simply produce more than what those who have money to pay need to eat." (Robledo, 2001) From this it can be concluded that hunger in the world is not caused by technological inability of the offer but because of the purchasing power of a considerable group of consumers; that is, because of poverty. Here too the maxim is fulfilled: "capitalism has an infinite supply capacity which does not correspond to an equal demand". You are experiencing a food crisis in the midst of overproduction, you are facing an economic problem and not a technical one. Traditional approaches to Food Security

In what has been stated so far, as a manifestation of the problem, there may be unanimity. The discussion is in their main motives and, therefore, in their solutions.

The disseminators of the simplest theories of food security affirm that the provision of nutrients to the hungry population is answered by the "magic mechanisms" of the market. The full application, according to them, of the paradigms of free competition extended to the arenas of international trade, will bring food to the poorest at low prices, correcting their deficiencies. In addition, they add, that the problem can be synthesized in providing a minimum diet in protein and calories that guarantees subsistence to every human being. The objective is to provide a daily caloric supply per capita which, if it is to imitate the standards of the so-called developed nations, consists of a serving of 3,300 calories and 101 grams of protein, although it can also be 2,907 and 86 of the nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern Europe. It all comes down to the endowment of individuals (UN, 2000)

A relevant element underlies this free trade theory: that, viewed this way, there are countries that are "naturally" exporters of basic food products and others that are, also by nature, buyers. Since neoliberalism began to do its thing throughout the world, more than a decade ago, these postulates have tried to impose; The result, within the parameters outlined, does not show a solution to the causes or to hunger. The pace of reaching the universal goals of fewer starving people has slowed and the number of poor people is also increasing. Although the World Bank affirms that the effect of globalization on world poverty "has been neutral", it recognizes that in the "developed countries the income distribution has deteriorated" and that in many others it has increased; In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, per capita income, between 1992 and 2000, only rose 1.2%, production almost grew below the demographic rhythm.

The negative effects of free trade in addressing hunger and some theoretical considerations led to the development of surrogate conceptions of food security. One of them is that of the institutionalist school. Based on the fact that the market alone is not enough to guarantee the individual diet, it emphasizes the presence of institutions that help it provide food security, to correct the deficiencies of the "invisible hand".

The economists who profess this belief, compatible in any case with the liberalization of the great international commercial circuits of food and agricultural products, insist on limiting global trade due to its effects on social variables such as employment, income or equity. The public policies they propose tend to attenuate, mitigate or regulate the imbalances in the market induced by agents with a dominant position, which in the case of the market for food products are the transnational monopolies of the United States and the OECD countries. , leveraged on state subsidies to their export activities and the productive ones of their farmers. The recent North American Farm Bill, for example, provides half of the annual state transfers to producers in six states such as Illinois, Texas and Kansas and almost 80% of them for cereals, dairy, cotton, rice and soybeans, for food and locker room. It is known that the "direct payments" cover everything from working capital needs to assistance in sales losses below cost or flexibility contracts in production, for which subsidies are received for producing less or simply not producing if applicable. , to avoid unwanted surpluses. This item was 41% of the subsidies in 1999. (USDA, 2002)

To control the consequences of trade in the substitution of imports for food produced in the countries, institutionalists have designed indicators such as that the margin of said substitution cannot exceed "the average of cereal imports by the rural labor force", which In the case of Colombia, they set about 314 kilograms of cereals per year (Puyana, 1996), or establish as a maximum limit to external purchases "25% of the balance of dollars available after discounting the service of foreign currency debt. received by exports ". (NGO's - CMA, 2002)

In a certain way, the institutional school focuses on correcting market imperfections by accepting the macroeconomic framework of free trade and capital flow. Jesús Bejarano, when presenting this school, synthesizes: "in reality, the configuration of a new institutional framework compromises not only the paradigm changes that have already been indicated and that fundamentally involve the construction of institutions for the better functioning of the markets, but also modifications important in public and private organizations, one in charge of advancing sectoral policies or regulatory procedures and mechanisms, and the others fundamentally constituted by production and decision-making units of a business or family nature ". (Bejarano, 1998)

In recent years, inspired by the best goodwill, a trend has emerged that attempts to address food security from the sustainable development model, highlighting the inclusion of the environmental variable and promoting clean production in agriculture. The foundation of this "organic agriculture" is in the paradigm of the low cost of the inputs, produced in situ, and at the service of the production of the goods that would provide the necessary food diet to rural households. It is reinforced in the Cuban experience to which that country had to resort to the blockade that it has suffered by the agrochemical producing firms.

This opinion also implicitly accepts, in the interest of defending the poorest and most rural eaters, a transfer of the massive supply of food in the main consumption centers to the dominant market agents and, simply, marginalizes the poorest. of them, creating their own provision. Likewise, it incorporates the effects of the market, as with this unique mechanism it considers that producers will be located in production quantities where the environmental cost exceeds the producer's marginal net benefit.

The actions of organic farming as well as its scope are limited and the benefit-cost relationship does not easily have the downward trend typical of economies of scale. Even the overpricing that their products may have in the special shops make it difficult for the majority of consumers to access. But this is not a market that escapes the control of the most powerful economies either. In Europe there are about two million hectares of this type of agriculture and trade - which reaches almost 20 billion dollars annually - is transacted 53% in Europe, 37% in the United States and 10% in Japan . Its maximum achievement, renouncing to compete both outside and inside, could be, through inputs elaborated by families in backward vertical integration strategies, to ensure the recovery of the labor force of the peasant economy in basic agricultural goods , in rural areas where the highest levels of poverty are found.

This proposal, thus conceived, and in countries with difficult circumstances where agricultural activity is advancing such as Colombia and faced with overwhelming competition from the agricultural sectors of the powers, which are now being strengthened more with the biotechnological varieties from Genetically Modified Organisms It ends up playing, at most, the role of an altruistic and partial solution, but not an economic solution, as the true axis of a public policy against general hunger in the countryside and cities. And for the sample a button: according to recent studies carried out in the urban areas of Pereira and Dosquebradas, 40% of pregnant women and those under 18 in these two populations suffer from malnutrition. (The Afternoon, 2002)

What to do with them who cannot cure their food deficit with organic farming, who do not even have an agrosystem to nourish themselves, conserving it? A study by the Comptroller General of the Republic, published in the magazine Economía Colombiana in February 2001, is, for all these reasons, conclusive: "Although organic farming appears as an ideal option from the environmental point of view, reality demands the promotion of other types of technologies that strengthen the agricultural sector ". (CNGR, 2001)

Food Sovereignty

In recent times it has become clear that if a nation wants to constantly and effectively feed its inhabitants, it has to advance its own autonomous agricultural policy. On a world scale, a new position has been strengthening to fight hunger and ensure food for the population, which sustains the food security of people in the food sovereignty of nations. It defines that "food sovereignty is the right of each nation and its people to maintain and develop their own capacity to produce basic foods with the corresponding productive and cultural diversity." Food sovereignty is the precondition for authentic food security (NGO's - CMA, 2002)

John Madeley's case studies on the impact of trade liberalization in 39 countries examine how the dumping of agricultural commodities at lower costs than production has led to the bankruptcy of millions of farmers in countries in the world. development and suggests that "it would not be unreasonable to estimate a figure of at least 10 million jobs lost in developing countries." Thus, the theory of "cheap food" that benefits consumers ends up being a sophism as many of these consumers belong to agricultural families expelled from the land because of their own imports (NGO's - CMA, 2001)

And these massive and ever-increasing imports, led by the United States, are the consequence, as already mentioned, of a policy of state subsidies that encourages surpluses to perpetuate a commercial prosperity that it has enjoyed for more than fifty years. Between 1996 and 2000, farm prices paid by agricultural companies for corn fell by 33%, wheat by 42, soybeans by 34 and rice by 42. These prices, linked to subsidies per hectare and the abundant export credits, they ended up ordering the world market to suit them and can only be explained by the tens of billions of dollars from the US treasury given to their agriculture. It is always worth remembering the phrase of William Faulkner in 1938: "We no longer cultivate in the cotton fields of Mississippi, now we do it in the corridors and in the halls of Congress in Washington" (Tindall and Shi, 1995)

And an update of that phrase is the well-known one, pronounced by George W. Bush, on July 27, 2001, "It is important for our nation to build: grow food, feed our population. Can you imagine a country that does not would it be able to grow enough food to feed its population? It would be a nation exposed to international pressure. It would be a vulnerable nation. And that is why, when we talk about North American agriculture, we are really talking about a question of national security. "(NGO´ s- CMA, 2002)

I fully agree with George W. Bush. This congruence goes back to the fact that the problem of food security is, ultimately, the problem of how a nation builds its own, powerful and sustainable agriculture at all costs and at the cost of everything, because in that company existence is involved. and independence of that nation.

The Latin American Evidence in the last decade

The Colombian case can serve as good evidence to highlight, for example negative. It can be asserted that the main result of the tragedies of the deep national agrarian crisis is not only in the reduction of the sowing area, nor in the loss of 200,000 jobs, nor in the stagnation of the volume of production, but also in food basic, the country has lost in terms of the endowment to each inhabitant. That endowment in 1990 was like this: 58.79 kilos of rice, 33.7 kilos of corn, 6.45 kilos of soybeans and 2.91 kilos of wheat, just to mention the most important. By 2000, those ratios had changed to: 54. 1 kilos of rice, 27.96 kilos of corn, 0.9 of soybeans and one of wheat. In general, in transitory crops, the per capita endowment decreased by 20%. It would not be risky to conclude that two out of every three Colombians born in Colombia, between 1990 and 2000, if they managed to preserve their diet, are fed imported goods.

Those that have grown are the permanent tropical ones. Yams, sugar cane, African palm, sugar cane and bananas. This seems like a feat to the Creole neoliberals and they even brag about it. A former finance minister has recently filled out several pages praising what happened. And some of his brothers have supported him in the effort and there is even talk of certain volumes about to be published that ratify what happened as a success in growth and development and coinciding laws are also proposed that would raise the mess to constitutional norm. (Suárez, 2002)

Precisely, intoxicated in their neoliberalism, they forget reasons that any Colombian would use in the face of the food disaster that occurred and that is about to worsen if the course is not corrected. First of all, no one who has seriously studied the coffee crisis can ignore that his case is typical of tropical products whose demand is less than supply and, consequently, prices plummet. The same happens with sugar and, with the much promoted by these times, African palm, all are subject to the evolution of trade. The latter, whose global market is managed almost by the same multinationals in the coffee industry, also comes in the same process of downward prices. In an American region, in the State of Chiapas in Mexico, where the greatest expansion of said cultivation took place in that country, the indigenous people already seduced to change corn for this oil palm complain of "being at the mercy of the voracity of the buyers, who are the owners of the extraction plants, who pay what they want per ton. "

Mexico has also joined, since NAFTA, the group of large food importers. Between 1997 and 2001, it has bought 50 million tons of basic grains abroad. It is already 50% dependent on rice, 40% on meat and 20% on milk. Two-thirds of the 25 million rural inhabitants are in poverty and 500,000 people are displaced each year, more than those attributed to the conflict in Colombia. In Uruguay and Argentina, once "granaries of the world", it is said that 80% of Mercosur farmers are no longer viable. In Argentina, 114 thousand agricultural holdings with an area of ​​10 million hectares have been abandoned. In Bolivia, the Dignidad Plan, to replace illicit crops with mango, coffee and cassava, has failed. (Quintana, 2002). When you observe all these modifications against the food security of the Latin peoples and it is known that North American exports of grains, wheat and rice grow without ceasing, it is understood why there is so much similarity between what is happening with what happened in Africa, when, since 1920, European colonialism was established at will. Only an action of resistance to this new world food order will be able to stop the destruction of these agricultural sectors, as happened there, and with it, the absolute loss of our food security. There is no other possible way to avoid it than the full exercise of food sovereignty of the nations. It is not a local or regional matter, it is a matter of national order.

Perspectives and conclusions

FAO's studies on the global outlook for food and agriculture also start from hunger as the main cause of poverty. However, in absolute numbers, the human beings living in this condition are almost the same as in 1990. There are more than 1,130 million and this organization, when defining malnutrition as a fundamental element of poverty, defines that the growth of the agriculture plays a key role in tackling the whole problem. Understanding, of course, that the equitable distribution of the fruits of this growth is a necessary condition for said agriculture to benefit the fight against hunger.

And the FAO, in the document "World Agriculture: towards the years 2015/2030", when evaluating the obstacles that must be removed in the global objectives for this fight, does not hesitate to first point out "the increase in agricultural trade deficits in the developing countries". And, as ratifying everything that has been affirmed in this writing, it underlines that the trade distortions induced in the OECD countries, which are manifested in state support to their farmers, which for the year 2000 reached 327,000 million euros for that group. dollars, "keep world prices of products low and therefore impede the development of agriculture, especially in developing countries, where there is less government support." It is the FAO, officially, who remarks as the main point of the food crisis the new order of global trade. And it is also pertinent to note that false free trade preaching introduces a bias to direct agriculture in the tropics towards agricultural products that are not staple foods and that can only be grown under those ecological conditions. Thus, while the tariff in the European Union is 215% for frozen beef, for pineapple it is barely 6%. Even in the promoted tariff advantages, "incentives" are created to specialize developing countries to the detriment of the production of basic foods. (FAO, 2002)

The worst is yet to come. Those who proclaim that the solution is more openness should know that the calculations on a possible full liberalization of agricultural trade show that, of the 160,000 million dollars in which international income could increase, 121,000 would remain again in the strongest economies. In the end, developing countries would increasingly be net importers of agricultural products, FAO concludes.

In this scenario, such as the one that will be imposed in America with the Free Trade Area, FTAA, the concentration of processes and markets in the agricultural sector will intensify. The multinationals, such as Cargill / Monsanto, Novartis / ADM, Philip Morris and ConAgra, which control, respectively, 80% of the world seed market, 75% of the agrochemical market, the first place in the world in food processing and largest share of the North American flour market will continue to expand unchecked. (FAO, 2002).

In a general perspective, in a future of openness and more neoliberalism, it is envisaged that, although there is talk of higher quality food, they will also be more expensive, that by 2030 a billion more tons of cereals and imports will be needed of these products would go from 103 million tons to 265, the increase will come from growth in productivity and not in the extension of agricultural frontiers, although developing countries will require 120 million more hectares for crops, which will not count all with sufficient irrigation. Among these new processes, those of dairy and livestock products stand out, whose intensive industrial methods will represent a threat to 675 million poor peasants who live off livestock.

In main crops such as wheat, the trend is to increase imports from 72 million tons to 160. In rice, a moderate growth in per capita consumption is expected, and, despite the fact that coarse grains such as corn, sorghum, barley and oats, among others, are used to a greater extent for animal feed, their human consumption is high in poor countries and their development will go hand in hand with that of the livestock sectors. Among the oilseed crops, as already mentioned, the advance of the African palm stands out, which tends to be oversold. Tubers and bananas, likewise, will continue to count in the diet of the poorest countries.

However, a review of food trade flows in 2000, according to the WTO, shows something worth noting: of the 442,000 million dollars that the world food trade added, just over 60% was traded between the Union Europe, North America and Japan; that is, among the OECD countries. Here it is worth asking: Why, then, is the imposition of the reduction of tariffs on the poorest countries insisted when their participation in this trade is almost marginal and the protection of their agricultural sectors would not affect the definition of prices ? It seems that we are facing decisions of a political nature rather than an economic one. (WTO, 2002)

This conclusion, arising from all the elements of analysis of reality and the perspectives derived from the increase in globalization, cannot lead to a different synthesis than that, of all public policies and proposals regarding food security, the only one that can guarantee food security to the inhabitants of the countries of the world that are currently lost or seriously threatened, such as Colombia, is that of food sovereignty.

Only with it can stable and sustainable income be guaranteed to those who make a living from agricultural and livestock activities, it truly contributes to the strengthening of internal markets and the State complies with ensuring that food will reach its people no matter what happens. Only with the full exercise of the right to food sovereignty, free from the impositions of international trade flows, will countries be able to promote the scientific and technological areas that support it. Just as the United States develops it at a loss, the effects are much greater, they are of the nature of a nation that wants to function as such. It transcends even the important boundaries of hunger. It is much more that the peasants produce their food, renouncing the national market. The country cannot travel the dangerous roads in which it can be extorted by the powers due to lack of food.

They understand it too. Not only because of the aforementioned quote from George W. Bush but also because of this other from Lester Thurow: "No government will sign an agreement that forces a large number of its farmers and a large area of ​​their lands to withdraw from agriculture." And, quoting the current senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, commenting on such a statement, linking it with the Colombian reality, it is worth repeating: "One would think that Professor Thurow did not know any of our last rulers, he was talking about the serious countries of the earth. , where agriculture defends itself to the death, thus generating inefficiencies ". (Robledo, 2002)

To conclude by reiterating the above and, above all, the relationship between hunger, agriculture, food security and malnutrition, nothing better than this phrase from Cicero to his son Marcos: "Of all the things that make a profit, there is nothing better , neither more profitable, nor more enjoyable, nor more worthy of the free man than agriculture. " It follows from it that giving up agricultural work not only brings starvation but slavery.

Bejarano J., (1998), Economics of Agriculture, TM Editores.
Comptroller General of the Republic, CNGR., "Organic agriculture does not seem viable in Colombia", in Colombian Economy Magazine, February 2001, Rodríguez Liliana.
La Tarde., "Without Our Daily Bread", Sunday, October 20, 2002, p. 2A ONU., "Human Development Report, 2,000".
Puyana Alicia., "Colombian Agriculture and the Oil Bonanzas", in Flacso-México, September 1996, via internet
Quintana Victor., "The Empire Against Agriculture", La Jornada (Mexico), April 24, 2002, via internet.
Robledo Jorge., "Causes and Consequences of the Agrarian Crisis", SEAP, December 2001
Robledo Jorge., "Food sovereignty", multi-copied 2.002
Suárez Aurelio., In "FTAA: A Business for All?", Multi-copied July 2.002
Tindall G., Shi D., "History of the United States. Volume II", TM Editores 1995
USDA., "United States Agriculture Statistics", April 2002, via internet
* By Aurelio Suárez Montoya Sent by MOIR [email protected]

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