A Famine of Ideas
Growing population, dependence on monoculture, a food economy geared to exports and concentrated in the hands of a few players, neoliberal economics meeting climate shock ending in catastrophic failure of food supply – we could be talking about common concerns over food security in the coming decades...
We have, in other words, a food system that is failing...
It delivers an excess of food that is unhealthy for the affluent and yet is incapable of producing enough calories for the poor. And it is a system in which the value of the food chain has been captured at each point, from seed to field to factory to shop, by powerful transnational corporations.... all but the most intensive and large-scale farmers are being driven off the land, many of the poorest forced into migration.
It is a system of extraordinary sophistication and yet also of startling fragility, vulnerable to climate shocks and energy price spikes. But it has not been created by accident. US and European government policies postwar have fostered it – with agricultural subsidies that have encouraged surplus of their own commodity crops, and with trade agreements and loans through international financial institutions that have forced markets in poorer countries open to take those crops and the processed junk diets their manufacturers like to make of them.
Last weekend, I joined several hundred people gathered under a blazing sky in Ireland's County Mayo for the annual Famine Walk from Doolough Lake to the tiny town of Louisburgh organised by the Irish campaign group Afri
The hundreds walking through the Mayo valley last weekend were not just engaged in an act of remembrance. They were voting with their feet for change..
It reminds me of a book I read recently Henry Williamson's "Story of a Norfolk Farm" (1941) in which the central thesis is that the soil was degraded in the 19th century and the nation's health debased by "cosmopolitan big business" (i.e. the Jews) importing huge amounts of nitrate fertilisers and promoting white bread. It's a crazy jumble of ideas - but over in occupied Europe a great many people were already dying from them.
And now it is Africa they die from them - the cure for general starvation is known -
“…no famine has taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy – be it economically rich (as in Western Europe or North America) or relatively poor (as in post independence India, or Botswana or Zimbabwe.” Amartya Sen. 2001. Development as Freedom. p.16
“Perhaps the most important reform that can contribute to the elimination of famines, in Africa as well as in Asia, is the enhancement of democratic practice, unfettered newspapers and – more generally – adversarial politics.” Amartya Sen. 1990. Public Action to Remedy Hunger.