The reigning food crisis shows the shortcomings of the trade liberalisation policy advocated by the World Bank, IMF and the WTO. Conventional economic theory indicates that food production rises automatically to meet the increase in demand, and once supply is up, prices fall.
It further suggests that cutting tariffs and eliminating trade barriers fosters growth as each country specialises in producing what it is specifically suited to produce. However, these economic theories miss the fact that too much liberalisation may also cause food crisis.
The optimism of poor farmers benefiting from the increased food prices is a fantasy given that part of the reason for the high food prices is that the US dollar, which is a major global currency for food trade has been plunging, while the price of oil, on which food distribution greatly depends, has been increasing.
In opening up our markets to global business, fertile lands have been diverted away from serving local food markets to producing global commodities and high-value crops for western markets. Unable to compete with the subsidised foodstuffs imported from developed countries, many small-scale farmers have been frustrated because liberalisation has left them without government support. Furthermore, the massive increase in heavily subsidised imports has continued to discourage local production and investment in agriculture.
Worse still, the unending land bonanza is also threatening access to agricultural land by small farmers. The Government policy of increasing exports earnings by promoting commercial farming has led to land speculation and grabbing. This model of export-led agriculture and import dependency is at the very root of todayâ€™s global food crisis because it is destroying local systems of food production and distribution. Uganda reportedly leased acres of land to Egypt for the growing of wheat. Not long ago, Japan acquired 12 million hectares of land in South-east Asia, China and Latin America to produce food, making Japanâ€™s overseas croplands thrice the size of its mainland. Chinese corporations are busy acquiring rights to productive farmland across Africa and the China government plans to make the buying of overseas land for food production an official government policy.
There is, therefore, need to re-examine our reliance on market forces and rebuild our agricultural systems from bottom up in order to empower those engaged in sustainable food production. The solution lies in shifting power from bureaucratic systems. Farmers, who are responsible for food production, should be more involved in the decision-making processes.
The success of cooperatives in the late 1980s and early 1990s shows that even peasant organisations have viable ideas about how to organise production and services and how to run markets.
The writer is an advocate and
Empower farmers to curb food crisis