Posts Tagged 'hunger'

Food Capitalism and Global Warming Produces Starvation and Food Riots

Raj Patel, September 4, 2010

Food Rebellions: Mozambicans Know Which Way the Wind Blows

It has been a summer of record temperatures – Japan had its hottest summer on record.[1] Same with South Florida and New York.[2] Meanwhile, Pakistan and Niger are flooded, and the Eastern US is mopping up after Hurricane Earl. None of these individual events can definitively be attributed to global warming, as any climatologist will tell you. But to see how climate change will play out in the twenty-first century, you needn’t look to the Met Office. Look instead to the deaths and burning tyres in Mozambique’s ‘food riots’ to see what happens when extreme natural phenomena interact with our unjust social and economic systems.

The immediate causes of the protests and in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and Chimoio about 500 miles north, are a 30-percent price increase for bread, compounding a recent double-digit increase for water and energy.[3] When nearly three quarters of the household budget is spent on food, that’s a hike few Mozambicans can afford. So far, the death toll hovers around ten, including two children. The police claim that they had to use live ammunition against protesters because ‘they ran out of rubber bullets’.[4]

Deeper reasons for Mozambique’s price hike can be found a continent away. Wheat prices have soared on global markets over the summer in large part because Russia, the world’s third largest exporter, has suffered catastrophic fires in its main production areas. These blazes, in turn, find their origin both in poor fire-fighting infrastructure and Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century.[5] On Thursday, Vladimir Putin extended an export ban in response to a new wave of wildfires in its grain belt, sending further signals to the markets that Russian wheat wouldn’t be available outside the country.[6] With Mozambique importing over 60% of the wheat its people needs, the country has been held hostage by international markets.[7]

This may sound familiar. In 2008, the prices of oil, wheat, corn and rice peaked on international markets – corn prices almost tripled between 2005-8.[8] In the process, dozens of food-importing countries experienced food riots, one of which claimed the political scalp of Haiti’s Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.[9]

Behind the 2008 protests were, first, natural events that looked like an excerpt from the meteorological section of the Book of Revelations–drought in Australia, crop disease in central Asia, floods in South East Asia. These were compounded by the social systems through which their effects were felt. Oil prices were sky high, which meant higher transport costs and fossil-fuel-based fertilizer prices. Biofuel policy, particularly in the US, shifted land and crops from food into ethanol production, diverting food from stomachs to fuel tanks. Longer term trends in population growth and meat consumption in developing countries also added to the stress. Financial speculators piled into food commodities, driving prices yet further beyond the reach of the poor. Finally, some retailers used the opportunity to raise prices still further, and while commodity prices have fallen back to pre-crisis levels, most of us have yet to see the savings at the checkout.

So, is this 2008 all over again? The weather has gone wild, meat prices have hit a 20 year high, groceries are being looted, and heads of state are urging calm. The general view from commodities desks, however, is that we’re not in quite as dire straits as two years ago. Fuel is relatively cheap and grain stores well stocked. We’re still on track for the third-highest wheat crop ever, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO),[10] so even without Russian wheat, there’s no need to panic.

While all this is true, it misses the point: for most hungry people 2008 isn’t over. The events of 2007-8 tipped over 100 million people into hunger, and the global recession has meant that they have stayed there. In 2006, the number of undernourished people was 854 million.[11] In 2009, it was 1.02 billion – the highest levels since records began. The hungry aren’t simply in Africa. According to one survey, over Christmas 2009 in the United States, 57 million Americans weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from.[12] Among those hardest hit by these price rises, in the US and around the world, were female-headed households.[13] The relations and structures of power that produce gender aren’t exempt from the weather, after all.[14] That’s why 60% of those going hungry are women or girls.[15]

Not only are the hungry still around, but food riots have continued. In India, double-digit food price inflation was met by violent street protests at the end of 2009. The price rises were, again, the result of both extreme and unpredictable monsoons in 2009, and an increasingly faulty social safety net to prevent hunger.[16] There have been frequent public protests about the price of wheat in Egypt this year, and both Serbia and Pakistan have seen protests too.

Although commodity prices fell after 2008, the food system’s architecture has remained largely the same over the past two decades. Bill Clinton has recently offered several mea culpas for the international trade and development policies that spawned the food crisis. Earlier this year, he blamed himself for Haiti’s vulnerability to international price fluctuations. “I did that,” he said in testimony to the US Senate. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.”[17] More generally, Clinton suggested in 2008 that “food is not a commodity like others… it is crazy for us to think we can develop a lot of these countries [by] treating food like it was a color television set.”[18]

Yet global commodity speculators continue to treat food as if it were the same as television sets, with little end in sight to what the World Development Movement has called “gambling on hunger in financial markets.” The recent US Wall Street Reform Act contained some measures that might curb these speculative activities, but their full scope has yet to be clarified. Europe doesn’t have a mechanism to regulate these kinds of speculative trades at all.[19] Agriculture in the Global South is still subject to the ‘Washington Consensus’ model, driven by markets and with governments taking a back seat to the private sector. And the only reason biofuels aren’t more prominent is that the oil they’re designed to replace is currently cheap.

Clearly, neither grain speculation, nor forcing countries to rely on international markets for food, nor encouraging the use of agricultural resources for fuel instead of nourishment are natural phenomena. These are eminently political decisions, taken and enforced not only by Bill Clinton, but legions of largely unaccountable international development professionals. The consequences of these decisions are ones with which people in the Global South live everyday. Which brings us back to Mozambique.

Recall that Mozambique’s street protests coincided not only with a rise in the price of bread, but with electricity and water price hikes too. In an interview with Portugal’s Lusa News, Alice Mabota of the Mozambican League of Human Rights didn’t use the term ‘food riots’. The protests are far more subtle and politically nuanced. In her words, “The government … can’t understand or doesn’t want to understand that this is a protest against the higher cost of living.” The action on the streets isn’t simply a protest about food, but a wider and more political act of rebellion. Half of Mozambique’s poor already suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the FAO.[20] The extreme weather behind the grain fires in Russia transformed a political context in which citizens were increasingly angry and frustrated with their own governments. Although it’s hard to read it outside the country, that’s a story well known within countries experiencing these food rebellions.

Yesterday, I reached Diamantino Nhampossa, the Coordinator of the União Nacional de Camponeses Moçambique – the Mozambican National Peasants Union. “These protests are going to end,” he told me. “But they will always come back. This is the gift that the development model we are following has to offer.” Like many Mozambicans, he knows full well which way the wind blows.

[UPDATE FROM Mozambique: The protesters have scored a victory. The government has agreed to reel back the increases on bread and water, though the electricity price hikes remain in force, and the government will have to make cuts 'elsewhere'. ]

[1] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jejeLCKDLGD9Ael1Wdi-AIQQf4sw

[2] http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/its-official-hottest-summer-ever/

[3] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gJ6PTteGMk_JCbJrgfRnFeBLHtWA AFP puts it at 17% – Guardian at 30%, as do most other news sources.

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/02/mozambique-bread-riots-looters-dead

[5] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/47086656-9d75-11df-a37c-00144feab49a.html andhttp://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f61cbbd8-a225-11df-a056-00144feabdc0.html

[6] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5f6f94ac-b6bc-11df-b3dd-00144feabdc0.html

[7] My calculations using FAOSTAT for 2007 suggests Mozambique imports 64.4%, but the Independent has the figure at 70%. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/now-meat-price-surge-raises-fear-of-food-inflation-2069227.html

[8] http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/gdsmdpg2420093_en.pdf

[9] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1228245020080412

[10] http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Financial/Wheat-volatility-leads-to-surge-in-global-food-prices-finds-FAO

[11] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[12] http://www.frac.org/pdf/food_hardship_report_2010.pdf

[13] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[14] http://www.unifem.org/partnerships/climate_change/facts_figures.php

[15] http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats?gclid=CLazjMb47aMCFSFugwod5A8H1A

[16] http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/business/18-india-faces-food-price-discontent-violent-protests-am-06

[17] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/clinton_rice

[18] http://www.fao.org/news/story/0/item/8106/icode/en/

[19] http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf

[20]http://typo3.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ess/documents/Media_and_Communication/MZB_20100823_OPais_scan.pdf

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Minister JR from Haiti, Part 1: Starvation and Jim Crow racism

San Francisco Bay View, February 12

Minister JR from Haiti, Part 1: Starvation and Jim Crow racism

by Minister of Information JR

(JR is on trial on trumped-up arson charges stemming from his coverage of the rebellion in downtown Oakland following BART police murder of Oscar Grant.  His is one of only two remaining charges, after baseless charges were dropped for hundreds of arrestees, and since there is no evidence for his non-existent crime, this prosecution is clearly retaliation for his coverage of police racism.  Please help pack the courtroom at his trial beginning MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22, at 8:30 AM, at Alameda County Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St., Courtroom 11, Oakland (map).

For more information, call (415) 671-0789 or email blockreportradio@gmail.com. Thank you.)

Hunger in Haiti

Today, on the one month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, I went all over Port au Prince and saw the devastation firsthand and the occupation by Brazil under the guise of the U.N., and of course the U.S.A. I rode through Port au Prince all day and didn’t see one act of recovery going on.  (Picture to left: Some people waiting in seemingly endless lines, knowing there were not enough bags of rice on the truck for everyone, stepped out of line and were pepper sprayed by these U.N. “peacekeepers.” This desperately hungry woman and her daughter pleaded for food. A month after the earthquake, many people in Port au Prince still have received no aid – no food, water, shelter or medical care. – Photo: Ben Gurr, The Times)

I haven’t left Port au Prince. Here it looks like the city was hit with an atomic bomb. All through the city you could smell dead bodies and see people going through the rubble lookin for scraps of metal to build a shanty-house and for anything that can be eaten, drunk or sold.

I don’t see where the millions of dollars that have been raised for Haiti is going. Everywhere people is starving. Me and my comrades gave some of the most desperate some money, but the thing is that it might help them today; what about tomorrow?

We been staying at a makeshift hospital run by some white so-called American missionaries. Today at the house I witnessed my first act of Jim Crow-type racism from so-called friends on this particular trip.

Haiti is like a time machine. It’s like 1920 here in terms of the apartheid type of relationships that the whites have with the Blacks. The white woman of “God” that runs the house says that Haitians can’t come in the house from their shantytown in the backyard after the hospital closes, but check this out: Multiple dogs have free reign all over the property. So in other words, these dogs are more important than the Haitians – including the hungry babies, the old people, the wounded and maimed and regular everyday people.

One of the members of our delegation was told not to feed the Haitians in the tent city in the backyard because they already eat once a day. The issue is, why do they think that they can determine who I share my food with? The house is full of white people who have free reign to eat as much as they want, and whenever they want.

One of the members of our delegation was told not to feed the Haitians in the tent city in the backyard because they already eat once a day.

The second issue is that when we went to Port au Prince we had a 19-year-old Haitian translator named Gady who helped our team. When we got back, the rooster-neck nun who is ultimately in charge of the house told him that he can’t be in the house, although we met him in the house the day before and hung out and listened to music to about 1 a.m.

We asked why, and she told us he wasn’t a good translator. I told her he did great with us, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. She told me he doesn’t know enough English medical terms to assist the doctors. I informed her that my team consists of journalists, and we didn’t need him to know English medical terms.

She then quickly said there were other reasons, then told us that she just didn’t want him in the house, and if we needed a translator, contact her and she would hook it up. Most of the translators that I met were very subservient, except ours, and that’s why we got along.

She kicked him out, and we went out the house after him and paid him a third of what he would make in a month as a translator, because we realize how hard it is to find money, water and food, let alone a regular job.

I’m currently writing this from the house, and God knows I wish I had somewhere else to go out here rather than deal with these undercover racists. I don’t, so like my Haitian “auntie” told me, I’m supposed to see all of this so I can report it.

On another note, most of the Black people from the U.S. out here that I have met are complicit in this Jim Crow racism. They act like they don’t see it because it is not affecting them. These dumb ass people don’t recognize that these same crackers were doing this to their grandparents 60 years ago. It’s like Malcolm taught us, when he talked about the house slave and the field slave.  (Picture at left: A woman salvages clothing from a store in Port au Prince. Is this the kind of “looting” that is the excuse for the U.S. and U.N. to post some 50,000 troops in Haiti? – Photo: Nikki Kahn, Washington Post)

Like my Haitian “auntie” told me, I’m supposed to see all of this so I can report it.

This is my first report, on my first full day here. There is more to come, so stay tuned …

Email POCC Minister of Information JR, Bay View associate editor, at blockreportradio@gmail.com and visit www.blockreportradio.com.

Editor’s note: POCC Minister of Information JR and Chris Zamani, M.D., who were political organizing comrades years ago, have reunited to form the Haiti Media-Medical Team to minister to the needs of the people of Haiti and tell their truth. With Minister JR on the media team are filmmaker Angela Carroll and photojournalist Siraj Fowler; with Dr. Zamani on the medical team are a nurse and a mental health therapist. They arrived in Haiti Feb. 11 thanks to the generous donations of many good folks, most notably Mos Def, Kamel Bell of Ankh Marketing, Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee and Walter Riley of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. Their reports will be posted here as soon as they are received.

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California Democrats toss poor, elderly, disabled, and working class overboard

“This is absolutely parallel to the fascism of Europe during the 1930s, in it’s broad attack on the elderly, disabled and poor, who are being scapegoated just as the Jews of Europe were in the 30s. They are turning citizens into aliens, and are trying to turn the elderly and disabled into criminals. I can bear witness to the damage being done to people in my generation, by the horrific effects of the budget cuts taking place,” said Walden, “and I further believe that we have become living targets of a fascist state. As witness to recent events, I am convinced that we are on the road to fascism.”

Indybay Media, July 25, 2009

Democrats sell out California’s poor, elderly, and disabled in budget deal

by Lynda Carson of Tenants Rule

California’s phony bleeding heart liberal democrats have just helped to pass a republican budget deal that shreds California’s safety net, by cutting $15.5 billion from the states service sector to partially close a $26.3 billion funding shortfall in state revenues.

Among other things, the democrats supported a $1.3 billion cut to MediCal, a $2.8 billion cut to the state wide university school system, and a $6 billion cut to California’s K-12 schools. The democratic leadership also supported the republicans push to slash the children’s health insurance program known as Healthy Families, In-Home Supportive Services and the CalWORKs program by cutting $878 million or more in coming months.

Rather than raising taxes on the rich and the major corporations that fail to pay their fair share of the tax burden in California, the democrats chose to side with the republicans and two bit actor ‘Schwarzenegger’ turned governor, in stealing precious resources meant to assist students, children, the sick, disabled, elderly, poor and the working middle class.

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and other phony liberals continue to remain silent about the budget cutting process taking place in Sacramento, while the true extent of the attacks on the poor, elderly and disabled reaches new heights of deception and depravity.

During recent weeks, numerous calls made to Congresswoman Lee’s office inquiring as to why the powerful congresswoman remains silent about the attack on California’s safety net, have resulted in nothing more than a “BIG NO COMMENT,” coming from her staffers in Washington, including her local spokesperson Ricky Graham, in Oakland. “California’s budget crisis is a state issue, not a federal issue, and therefore Congresswoman Lee has no comment,” said Graham.

Considering that Congresswoman Lee represents millions of people in the great state of California, Ricky Graham’s statement was totally lacking in credibility and humanity.

As California’s democratic leadership including Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg along with a total of 18 democrat sell-outs who supported the republican’s attack on the safety net try to conceal how much damage they have wrought upon the general public, hundreds of thousands of Californians will be hit hard in future months by the budget deal that protects the interests of the mighty rich, as it crushes the lives and interests of the working class poor.

Making matters worse for the elderly, disabled and poor, the democratic leadership granted extreme new powers to the republican minority by agreeing to proposals that do major damage to COLA’s (cost of living increases) for those in CalWORK’s, SSP and other areas of the states safety net, by requiring that any new COLAs for the people in those programs, must be approved by a two-thirds vote in future budget proposals.

At a small July 22, rally in front of Oakland City Hall, Eleanor Walden and her daughter Nasira, publicly spoke out against the republican budget cutting proposals along with Zachary Norris of ‘Books Not Bars’, and Kevin D. Shields the ‘DSRP Coordinator’ for the Disabled Students Program at the University of California, in Berkeley.

“The thought of the democrats siding with the republicans in the fascist proposals being passed to make the elderly and disabled get finger printed because of their participation in the ‘In-Home Supportive Services Program’, is enough to make my blood boil,” said Eleanor Walden, a Berkeley scholar of 20th century American history and folklore.

“This is absolutely parallel to the fascism of Europe during the 1930s, in it’s broad attack on the elderly, disabled and poor, who are being scapegoated just as the Jews of Europe were in the 30s. They are turning citizens into aliens, and are trying to turn the elderly and disabled into criminals. I can bear witness to the damage being done to people in my generation, by the horrific effects of the budget cuts taking place,” said Walden, “and I further believe that we have become living targets of a fascist state. As witness to recent events, I am convinced that we are on the road to fascism.”

Kevin Shields the DSRP Coordinator for disabled students said, “By cutting the social services desperately needed by the disabled and elderly, you create a whole new class of citizens who become angry, frustrated and disillusioned about the system that was meant to assist them in their time of need.”

Lydia Gans of Food Not Bombs said, “We already are seeing a huge increase in the homeless and hungry, due to the effects of a bad economy during our feeding times at People’s Park. The non profits who usually help out are losing funding and donations, and this latest round of budget cutting proposals will increase the level of homelessness and hunger all across the state. What should be happening, is that everyone affected by the budget cuts should be in the streets of Sacramento and cities across the state to protest against the inhumanity and catastrophic effects that are taking place in everyday peoples lives.”

As being proposed by state law makers, theres an additional $8 million in funding to be slashed from the budget for state parks, on top of the $226 million in cuts to IHSS, plus $528 million from CalWORKS, including $124 million in cuts from the Healthy Families program that will negatively affect 930,000 low-income children.

SSI/SSP recipients have already taken a huge 6.4% cut from the state assistance program since February 2009, including the suspension of their cost of living increases that were promised to be payed back, after being grabbed by the governor. It will be nearly impossible to restore the cost of living increases now that the democrats gave new sweeping powers to the republicans who are demanding a two-thirds majority vote to allow a cost of living adjustment to occur in future months and years.

As the democrats try to conceal and deceive the public about the true extent of damage they have done to California’s safety net by siding with the republicans in the vicious attack on children, the disabled, elderly and working class poor, additional budget cuts are expected as the governor prepares to use the line item veto during the next few days to slash another $1.1 billion dollars from the budget, in an attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

A press conference and rally for the ‘People’s Budget Fix’, calling for criminal justice reforms that will increase public safety, protect the social safety net and save the state billions, will take place on July 30, between 11am – 12pm, at the Elihu M. Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St, Oakland, near the 12th St, BART Station.

Contact Jennifer Kim; Jennifer [at] ellabakercenter.org or (510) 285-8234 for more details about the July 30 rally.

Wealth Gap in India has Created a Social Time Bomb

Newsweek yesterday wrote “In recent years, the global media has been abuzz with glowing headlines about India’s economic leaps and bounds, the emergence of its consumerist middle class, and its status as one of the last frontiers for luxury conglomerates looking to consolidate their recent gains. But, as the ongoing terrorist assault on Mumbai indicates, maintaining its recent momentum will be a delicate task, and one that it cannot accomplish without bringing all of its citizens on board, including, most importantly, its disaffected Muslim underclass., a large Muslim minority of approximately 150 million.”

India is one of the most wealth-unequal nations in the world, due to the triumph of economic neo-liberalism, which began in the early 1990s, which was eagerly embraced by the richest families in India.  Everyone knows there is a wealth gap in India, but the degree of inequality is stunning.

India has developed incredible wealth for a tiny minority. India’s economy, Asia’s 3rd largest, has grown at 9% per year for past 4 years. The top 10 percent of India’s population owns between 33 to 50 percent of the country’s wealth, Some 1.8 million households earning $100,000 or more a year, spend a tenth of that on luxury goods. [1]

The concentration of wealth among super-rich is particularly striking. Mumbai alone has more billionaires than all of Scandinavia, but half the 13 million population lives in slums. [2]

India has 53 billionaires in a population of 1 billion (5 millionths of a percent), and their wealth is equivalent to 31% of India’s GDP. India ranks 4th in world in number of billionaires, after US, Russia, and Germany, but India’s billionaires richer than Russia’s or Germany’s. India is ahead of Japan, China, UK, France, for example. [3] Luxury malls with gold-plated ceilings are proliferating across India., right next to slums. [4]

The vast majority of people in India now live in incredible poverty. 80% of India’s population earn about $5 per week, and live on 50 US cents per day. [5] In 2007, India was 94th out of 118 nations in the Global Hunger Index, below Ethiopia, for example. [6] As India’s neoliberalism developed full force in the late 1990s, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh had half the world’s hungry people, yet together they had 50 million tons of surplus grain. [7] One fifth of the world’s 500,000 women who died in childbirth in 2007 were from India. [8]

In the UN’s Human Development Index, (a composite of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita), India scores 128 in world, behind desperately poor, ravaged areas with no wealth such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Botswana, and even the occupied areas of Palestine. [9]

The situation for farmers in India, 60% of the population, is so desperate that between 1997-2007, according to government figures,166,000 Indian farmers killed themselves. From 2001 to 2006, Indian farmers killed themselves at the rate of one every half-hour. [10]

International corporate takeover of seed, pesticide, and fertilizer markets since 1991 have raised cultivation costs from $50 per acre to $300 per acre. Farmers growing food cannot afford to plant enough to feed themselves, so they have to buy grain, whose prices have skyrocketed. 60% of outlays in farm households, averaging $12 per person, goes for food. [11]

Farmers are particularly desperate in areas that followed IMF directives to abandon food crops and plant cash crops. For example, India is the world’s second biggest producer of cotton. US subsidies to US cotton-farming corporations exceed the value of the cotton itself, so cheap US cotton imports have flooded India and driven income to India’s cotton farmers down 70%., while cultivation cost have increased six-fold since 1991. Farmer suicides in cotton-growing areas occur once every six hours. [12]

Indian farmers are unable to get $100 loans for seed or fertilizer because of 14% interest rates, while in the cities, middle-class professionals are approached by banks to borrow tens of thousands at 4% interest to buy Mercedes cars. [13]

Finally, Government investment in agricultural development, like irrigation, decreased from 14% of GDP in 1991, to 6% in 2005. [14]

Muslims in India have an average literacy rate just higher than low-cast Hindus. Muslims are 13% of population but less than 5% of government posts, and only 4% of university undergraduates. Muslim poverty rate in urban areas is 38%, higher than low-cast Hindus. [15]

As Newsweek concludes, if there is a quantum of solace to be extracted from this tragedy, it’s that it serves as an urgent call to address the underlying causes of terrorism, the most pressing issue of our time, with a targeted effort to counteract the destabilizing effects of poverty, lack of basic education, health care and civil rights. [16] We have a simpler way of saying it: “No Justice, No Peace!”

The U.S. Role in Haiti’s Food Riots

CounterPunch, April 21, 2008

30 Years Ago Haiti Grew All the Rice It Needed. What Happened?
The U.S. Role in Haiti’s Food Riots

By BILL QUIGLEY

Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the  lives of six people.  There have also been food riots world-wide in Burkina  Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco,  Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The Economist, which calls the current crisis the silent tsunami, reports that  last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16%, but since January rice prices have  risen 141%. The reasons include rising fuel costs, weather problems, increased  demand in China and India, as well as the push to create biofuels from cereal  crops.

Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port au Prince,  told journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are “like toothpicks” they’ re not getting enough nourishment.  Before, if you had a dollar twenty-five  cents, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a little  cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65 cents, and is not good rice at all.  Oil is 25 cents.  Charcoal  is 25 cents.  With a dollar twenty-five, you can’t even make a plate of rice  for one child.”

The St. Claire’s Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo  neighborhood of Port au Prince, serves 1000 free meals a day, almost all to  hungry children — five times a week in partnership with the What If  Foundation.  Children from Cite Soleil have been known to walk the five miles to  the church for a meal. The cost of rice, beans, vegetables, a little meat,  spices, cooking oil, propane for the stoves, have gone up dramatically. Because  of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are now smaller.  But hunger is on  the rise and more and more children come for the free meal.  Hungry adults used  to be allowed to eat the leftovers once all the children were fed, but now there  are few leftovers.

The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that “Haiti, its  agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself.”  Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of  the main causes of the shortages — the fact that the U.S. and other  international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major  market for the heavily subsidized rice from U.S. farmers.  This is not the only  cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but it is a major force.

Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed.  What happened?

In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc”  Duvalier the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in  desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out).   But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff  protections for their Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some  industries to open up the country’s markets to competition from outside  countries.  The U.S. has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF.

Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened.  “Within less than  two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they  called ‘Miami rice.’  The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as  cheap, U.S. subsidized rice, some of it in the form of ‘food aid,’ flooded  the market. There was violence, ‘rice wars,’ and lives were lost.”

“American rice invaded the country,” recalled Charles Suffrard,  a leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000.   By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many  stopped working the land.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who has been the pastor at  St. Claire and an outspoken human rights advocate, agrees.  “In the 1980s,  imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers could  produce it.  Farmers lost their businesses.  People from the countryside started  losing their jobs and moving to the cities.  After a few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down.”

Still the international business community was not satisfied.  In  1994, as a condition for U.S. assistance in returning to Haiti to resume his  elected Presidency, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced by the U.S., the IMF, and  the World Bank to open up the markets in Haiti even more.

But, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, what reason could  the U.S. have in destroying the rice market of this tiny country?

Haiti is definitely poor.  The U.S. Agency for International Development reports  the annual per capita income is less than $400.   The United Nations reports  life expectancy in Haiti is 59, while in the US it is 78.  Over 78% of Haitians  live on less than $2 a day, more than half live on less than $1 a day.

Yet Haiti has become one of the very top importers of rice from the  U.S.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2008 numbers show Haiti is the third  largest importer of US rice – at over 240,000 metric tons of rice.  (One metric ton is 2200 pounds).

Rice is a heavily subsidized business in the U.S.  Rice subsidies in  the U.S. totaled $11 billion from 1995 to 2006.  One producer alone, Riceland  Foods Inc of Stuttgart Arkansas, received over $500 million dollars in rice  subsidies between 1995 and 2006.

The Cato Institute recently reported that rice is one of the most  heavily supported commodities in the U.S. — with three different subsidies  together averaging over $1 billion a year since 1998 and projected to average  over $700 million a year through 2015. The result?  “Tens of millions of rice  farmers in poor countries find it hard to lift their families out of poverty  because of the lower, more volatile prices caused by the interventionist  policies of other countries.”

In addition to three different subsidies for rice farmers in the  U.S., there are also direct tariff barriers of 3 to 24 percent, reports Daniel  Griswold of the Cato Institute — the exact same type of protections, though much higher, that the U.S. and the IMF  required Haiti to eliminate in the 1980s and 1990s.

U.S. protection for rice farmers goes even further. A 2006 story in  the Washington Post found that the federal government has paid at least $1.3  billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do  no farming at all; including $490,000 to a Houston surgeon who owned land near  Houston that once grew rice.

And it is not only the Haitian rice farmers who have been hurt.

Paul Farmer saw it happen to the sugar growers as well.  “Haiti, once the  world’s largest exporter of sugar and other tropical produce to Europe, began  importing even sugar– from U.S. controlled sugar production in the Dominican  Republic and Florida.  It was terrible to see Haitian farmers put out of work.   All this sped up the downward spiral that led to this month’s food riots.”

After the riots and protests, President Rene Preval of Haiti agreed  to reduce the price of rice, which was selling for $51 for a 110 pound bag, to $43  dollars for the next month.   No one thinks a one month fix will do anything but  delay the severe hunger pains a few weeks.

Haiti is far from alone in this crisis.  The Economist reports a  billion people worldwide live on $1 a day.  The US-backed Voice of America  reports about 850 million people were suffering from hunger worldwide before the  latest round of price increases.

Thirty three countries are at risk of social upheaval because of  rising food prices, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told the Wall Street  Journal.  When countries have many people who spend half to three-quarters of  their daily income on food, “there is no margin of survival.”

In the U.S., people are feeling the world-wide problems at the gas  pump and in the grocery.  Middle class people may cut back on extra trips or on  high price cuts of meat.  The number of people on food stamps in the US is at an  all-time high. But in poor countries, where malnutrition and hunger were widespread before  the rise in prices, there is nothing to cut back on except eating.  That leads  to hunger riots.

In the short term, the world community is sending bags of rice to  Haiti.  Venezuela sent 350 tons of food.  The US just pledged $200 million extra  for worldwide hunger relief.  The UN is committed to distributing more food.

What can be done in the medium term?  The US provides much of the  world’s food aid, but does it in such a way that only half of the dollars  spent actually reach hungry people.   US law requires that food aid be purchased  from US farmers, processed and bagged in the US and shipped on US vessels –  which cost 50% of the money allocated.  A simple change in US law to allow some  local purchase of commodities would feed many more people and support local farm  markets.

In the long run, what is to be done? The President of Brazil, Luiz  Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited Haiti last week, said “Rich countries need to reduce farms subsidies and trade barriers  to allow poor countries to generate income with food exports.  Either the world  solves the unfair trade system, or every time there’s unrest like in Haiti, we  adopt emergency measures and send a little bit of food to temporarily ease  hunger.”

Citizens of the USA know very little about the role of their  government in helping create the hunger problems in Haiti or other countries.   But there is much that individuals can do.  People can donate to help feed  individual hungry people and participate with advocacy organizations like Bread  for the World or Oxfam to help change the U.S. and global rules which favor the  rich countries.  This advocacy can help countries have a better chance to feed  themselves.

Meanwhile, Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate in  Port-au-Prince told journalist Wadner Pierre “…people can’t buy food.  Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost of living is the biggest worry for us, no peace in stomach  means no peace in the mind.¦I wonder if others will be able to survive the days  ahead because things are very, very hard.”

“On the ground, people are very hungry,” reported Fr.  Jean-Juste.  “Our country must immediately open emergency canteens to feed the  hungry until we can get them jobs.  For the long run, we need to invest in  irrigation, transportation, and other assistance for our farmers and workers.”

In Port au Prince, some rice arrived in the last few days.  A school  in Fr. Jean-Juste’s parish received several bags of rice.  They had raw rice  for 1000 children, but the principal still had to come to Father Jean-Juste  asking for help.  There was no money for charcoal, or oil.

Jervais Rodman, an unemployed carpenter with three children, stood  in a long line Saturday in Port au Prince to get UN donated rice and beans.   When Rodman got the small bags, he told Ben Fox of the Associated Press, “The beans might last four days.  The rice will be gone as soon  as I get home.”

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola  University New Orleans. His essay on the Echo 9 nuclear launch site protests is featured in Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com People  interested in donating to feed children in Haiti should go to  http://www.whatiffoundation.org/

People who want to help change U.S. policy on  agriculture to help combat world-wide hunger should go to:

http://www.oxfamamerica.org/ or http://www.bread.org/


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