Monday, July 07, 2008

Eat your greens

Do you remember having earnest childhood exhortations to 'eat up everything on your plate because there are plenty starving in Africa'? It seems that Gordon Brown does and took it to heart. We now have the political equivalent, a war on waste. Only with the current obesity panic it is don't buy it in the first place rather than eat it.

Food waste is an important problem. All those 'buy one get fifteen free' offers and use by dates that suggest that your Worcester Sauce will turn into nuclear waste at a particular time in a couple of years don't help either. However, to suggest that this is anything other than peripheral in a crisis that affects the supply and price of basic staple grain crops is to duck the important issues. The world food system is a bit more complicated than that.

How about the dysfunctions of a fully commercialised and heavily monopolistic capitalist food system? How about the monopoly over supply and retail exercised in the developed world by the big supermarkets? How about the continuing dispossession of highly productive small farmers? How about the displacement of local markets by global ones? How about cash cropping as a substitute for food production, of which biofuels is only the latest emanation? How about the erosion of sustainable rural communities? I could go on adding to the list and you can explore more here.

Malnutrition kills millions annually. Millions of poor people that is. Cutting down on that extra banana, which you bin when it goes manky, will only reduce the income of farmers rather than save the world.


Anonymous said...

How about the fact that supermarkets tend to sell food cheaply, which isn't exactly bad for the poor? How about the fact that highly productive small farmers prosper, if they produce what people actually want? How about the fact that global markets allow poor people to sell their produce to people in richer countries and thus become less poor? How about the fact that cash cropping makes people much better off than subsistence agriculture? How about the fact that the sustainable rural communities tend to be the dirt-poor ones that people actually want to escape from?

The Plump said...

Sorry anonymous, I cannot agree. Check out some of the research.
Supermarkets are expensive - though profitable. Small farmers certainly produce what people want (like food!) but need access to the market, which they cannot get if it is dominated by monopolies. We are talking here of market failures. Cash cropping is one of the factors that leads to rural dispossession and is extremely vulnerable to market gluts and price crashes. It is unfair to compare it with subsistence agriculture rather than with mixed agriculture, producing for regional markets. The impact of global markets depend heavily on the terms of trade, what the fair trade movement is all about for example. UNSUSTAINABLE rural communities are dirt poor, sustainable ones are prosperous. This is what sustainability is all about. We ignore the crisis in our rural communities at our peril.

The Plump said...

PS Anon.

Hope you found your phone. Mine was in the car.