The Socialist 26 January 2011 |
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Food price hikes fuelling unrest
FOOD PRICE rises have caused mass protests in Algeria, Mozambique and Yemen, as well as being a major factor in the movement that recently toppled the Tunisian dictator, president Ben Ali. High food prices were also the spark that lit the 1789 French and the February 1917 Russian revolutions.
World wheat and maize prices have risen 57%, rice 45% and sugar 55% over the last six months. Food prices have risen by 21% in Egypt and 17% in India during the last year, where 100 million people participated in a general strike against food price hikes in September.
Recent government reports blame rising population for these price hikes, but the reality is the increasing use of agricultural land for biofuels, environmental disasters, protectionism, speculation and fundamentally a profit-motivated system, are the main factors pushing up food prices.
Floods have wiped out much of the harvest in Pakistan and badly affected late harvests in Australia, while droughts have done the same in Russia and Ukraine. Export restrictions on wheat introduced in Russia, Ukraine and other countries to attempt to protect domestic markets have led to rising global prices.
These price rises have then been increased even more by speculation. Hedge fund manager Mike Masters told the Guardian newspaper that "because there is already much more capital available in the world than hard commodities, speculators can increase the price of consumable commodities, like foodstuffs or energy, much higher than traditional consumers and producers can react."
Biofuels use increasing amounts of land that would otherwise be used for growing food to produce ethanol, which is classified by many governments as more environmentally friendly than petrol.
Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) warns that "if current policies continue, by 2019 about 13% of the global production of coarse grains, 16% of vegetable oil and 35% of sugar cane will be used for ethanol [biofuels]".
There is more than enough food produced worldwide to feed everyone, the problem is that millions cannot afford the prices. Already one dictator has fallen, but to rein in food prices a much bigger change is needed.
While the food industry is controlled by private companies for profit and speculators control the prices, millions in the neocolonial world will still starve or suffer malnutrition.
In the West, undernourishment in poor families is increasing while, ironically, millions of others suffer health problems (such as obesity) due to highly processed, unhealthy but profitable foods.
The Socialist Party calls for food, like other production, to be democratically planned and controlled by workers and the poor in the interests of all. Once the capitalist profit motive has been removed it will be entirely possible to eradicate hunger.