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By Vicent Boix
Something is manipulating and altering the markets and that something is speculation that according to the European Parliament is to blame for 50% of the recent increases. FAO itself recognizes that only 2% of futures contracts end with the delivery of the merchandise and the majority are negotiated again, that is why “… this type of contract -or obligations- attracts an increasing number of financial speculators. and investors, since its benefits may be more attractive in relation to how stocks and bonds perform. " Agriculture and food as basic sustenance disappear in favor of the mercantilist vision: the ultimate goal is not to guarantee food or work, but to do a good business no matter who falls.
Market or food sovereignty?
“Between 2010 and 2011, food prices have broken records for seven consecutive months (…) likewise, increases in the prices of basic products have become a destabilizing factor in the world economy, causing tensions and riots in several developing countries and, more recently, in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt ”. This was stated by the European Parliament in a resolution passed on February 17, adding that "... high food prices add millions of people to food insecurity and threaten global food security in the long term." (one)
Faced with this new and tragic food crisis, it is repeated over and over again that the main cause of the rise in prices is an imbalance between lower supply and higher demand worldwide, that is, more and more crops are required and this year the returns were worse. But, already in a previous article (2) I indicated that during the years 2003-2004, the world situation in terms of the quantity of basic foods such as cereals had been worse than since 2007 until now. On the contrary, and taking as a reference the "Index for Food Prices" calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), prices in 2003-2004 were 50% lower compared to those of the United Nations. 2008 crisis and 100% compared to January 2011.
Therefore, something is manipulating and altering the markets and that something is speculation that according to the European Parliament is to blame for 50% of the recent increases. FAO itself recognizes that only 2% of futures contracts end with the delivery of the merchandise and the majority are negotiated again, that is why “… this type of contract -or obligations- attracts an increasing number of financial speculators. and investors, since its benefits may be more attractive in relation to how stocks and bonds perform. (3)"
The problem is not a shortage or a lower supply of food as they say without stopping, but prices inflated by speculators as stated by the European Chamber in a previous resolution: “… at present the total world food supply is not insufficient ( …) It is rather their inaccessibility and their high prices that deprive many people of food security. (4)"
However, speculation, the cause of promotions, is not the root of the problem. This should be stopped, but food prices would continue to be subject to fluctuations in supply and demand, at a time when interest in agrofuels is growing and large transnational companies control the different links in the food chain. That is, as long as nations marginalize their self-sufficiency and the panacea is to buy basic foods in the great global supermarket, while raw materials and exotic crops are exported to it (soybeans for fodder, cotton, bananas, flowers, pineapples, coffee, corn for bioethanol, etc.), food will continue to be subject to the dynamics of a market managed by certain octopuses who have little understanding of hunger.
This does not mean that the international market is dispensed with, but its regularization is vital and above all that nations prioritize their food sovereignty understood as the power of peoples and farmers to decide their agricultural policies to guarantee food security. In these times it may be heresy, but curiously, in the same press release in which FAO recently announced that food prices had reached a historical record, an economist from that institution indicated that “The only An encouraging factor so far comes from a certain number of countries where - due to good harvests - domestic prices of some staple foods remain low compared to world prices ”(5).
In other words, these countries will be able to stock up on cheap food because they grow it themselves and do not have to buy it in the "kingdoms" of multinationals and investment funds. But despite the data, the trend is rather the opposite. Liberalization encourages investment and the relocation of production to southern countries, whose lands stop giving birth to food to become farms where agrofuels, fodder and desserts of wealthy nations sprout. These lands are concentrated in wealthy landowners or even investors while the peasant is expelled from the countryside. The rest of the links in the food chain (seeds, intermediation, manufacturing, etc.) are concentrated in a few hands that dictate the conditions, monopolize the markets, make consumer food more expensive and drown the farmer to the point of surrender. Agriculture and food as basic sustenance disappear in favor of the mercantilist vision: the ultimate goal is not to guarantee food or work, but to do a good business no matter who falls.
This model based on exports to the international market where everything is susceptible to being priced, bought and sold, is not only incoherent because it creates food dependency on the foreign market and its prices, but also creates dependency on oil for transportation and because agriculture industrial needs abundant agrochemicals. With the current riots in countries like Libya, oil becomes more expensive again, which will exacerbate the food crisis as in 2008. And if you add that "climate change" and "peak oil" are current issues, it is even more surreal commit our calories to black gold.
The miracle painkiller.
In mid-February, the World Bank reported that due to the increase in food prices, the number of hungry people was approaching 1 billion, when the latest FAO data put them at 925. In addition, 44 million people are crossed the threshold of extreme poverty because their weak family economies have been destabilized by high amounts of food. (6)
The situation is extremely serious but prices are still high and in a globalized economy, the latest local climatic phenomena - storms in Africa, frosts in Mexico, droughts in China, etc. - become a worldwide headache. But beware, it is not a shortage problem, and the roars of a billion empty stomachs are not enough to give the final blow to the table that puts the market and speculators in their place. Yes, many fireworks have been fired in the form of good intentions. At the recent G-20 meeting for example, there was talk of greater transparency in the markets, limitation of speculation, better information on crops ... in short, nothing that has not been heard before and nothing that has not remained in nothing, despite the fact that on February 17 the European Parliament asked the G-20 "... to combat the abuses and manipulations of agricultural prices on an international scale, given that they represent a potential danger to world food security ..." apart from demand "... the adoption of measures aimed at addressing excessive price volatility ..." (7).
The short-term proposals put in place to tackle the situation are being as unfair as they are unsuccessful, because they have tried to solve the mess by playing on the court and abiding by the rules of the game of the distorting entity (market) instead of confronting and stopping their ravings . In this direction, for example, FAO has recognized that since July its main objective has been "to calm the markets". (8) For this, the star analgesic used by this organization has consisted in cajoling certain countries that had restricted their exports -of cereals especially- to resume them quickly and thus recover the flow of supply that would tame prices in the market international.
It should be noted that these exporting countries closed their borders, supposedly to guarantee food to their citizens, firstly because the harvests were not good, secondly because the best way not to fall into the international price crisis is with national productions. Well, something that at least is normal and even legitimate, has been considered by many to be the main cause of the food price crisis, because under the logic of the free market the world supply of that commodity called food was being manipulated.
But while these nations are being pressured to resume exports and not store food for their populations, no one dares to question the barbarity of millions of tons of US corn that are destined for bioethanol (14% of corn world). (9) And this is so because under the untouchable neoliberal prism that prevails, food does not have to feed stomachs, but is merchandise that must inexorably be priced in the market, where bidders will condition prices because the ultimate goal is to enlarge the profits and if they grow with the cars, then the stomachs continue to roar.
Bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.
Since July it has been intended to "calm the markets" and the failure has been resounding. The restoration of food exports did not extinguish the fire that continued to expand due to the news of smaller harvests and to meteorological phenomena that added anxiety to the situation.
Concessions were requested from the exporting countries that did not alleviate the crisis, and on January 26, in desperation, the FAO released a report (10) with recommendations to tighten their belts in this case, the importing nations, among which were they mostly find the poor. The package of measures was mainly focused on a single point: that the states apply economic and commercial measures to reduce the price of food, such as direct subsidies, loans to finance imports, tax incentives, reduction of taxes such as VAT, reduction of tariffs and taxes on imports of food, supplies, agricultural machinery, etc. Some of these recommendations - closer to the philosophy of the IMF or the World Bank - were adopted during the 2008 crisis and some countries are already applying them. Guatemala, for example, at the beginning of February announced the importation of corn with zero tariffs to deal with the rise in prices. (eleven)
Logically, these measures will weaken the coffers of nations that will stop taxing or directly subsidize food with budget funds, which will affect the financing of other public programs and services in the medium and long term. For nations that may have problems with budgets and balance of payments, FAO recommends, read well, that they resort to the programs of the World Bank and the IMF, or what is the same, that they borrow more to defray the brutal gains that the market and its speculators are accumulating with the rise in prices.
As can be seen and as has been repeated ad nauseam in this article, nobody touches a hair on the distorting entity situated precisely between the countries that produce and buy food, which are the ones that are asked to sacrifice and that adapt to whims from the market, even compromising your accounts. And the political classes of these countries, seeing the images of Egypt or Libya, do not risk that the food is inaccessible and are dancing tap dancing to the tune that is indicated to them.
While new data on food prices are awaited, the situation begins to be extremely suffocating and could lead to a crisis worse than that of 2008. That is why the bombastic verbiage is over and there are urgent real and effective solutions, because for humanity to eat it is a verb and not a pompous and demagogic noun.
Vicent boix - Writer, author of the book El parque de las hamocas and head of Social Ecology of Belianís. Article from the series "Food Crisis". http://www.elparquedelashamacas.org/html/biografia.html
(3) FAO: "Futures markets need some kind of regulation" Rome, June 23, 2010.
(5) FAO: “World Food Prices Hit New All-Time High” Rome, February 3, 2011.
(8) FAO: "Punctuation by the Director-General of FAO" Rome, January 27, 2011.