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The massive efforts to develop the Third World in the years since World War II were not motivated by purely philanthropic considerations but by the need to bring the Third World into the orbit of the Western trading system in order to create an ever-expanding market for our goods and services and a source of cheap labor and raw materials for our industries. This has also been the goal of colonialism especially during its last phase, which started in the 1870’s. For that reason, there is a striking continuity between the colonial era and the era of development, both in the methods used to achieve their common goal and in the social and ecological consequences of applying them.[1]

Following the Second World War in 1944, President Roosevelt convened a United Nations-sponsored (the UN at this time not officially formed yet) monetary and financial conference at Bretton Woods to discuss redevelopment of devastated areas due to the destruction of the wars. Ultimately it was in the conferences’ plans to create a Bank of Reconstruction and Development. This “bank” is today known as the World Bank and the addition of the word “development” was a controversial move according to some of the conference members, specifically those from Latin American countries; for the concept of “development” was to indicate assistance given to economically disadvantaged countries that had long suffered under colonial occupation. The overall result of the end of World War II and the Bretton Woods conference was a general split of the world into two camps: the US-led capitalist ideological, political and economic bloc and the Soviet-led socialist ideological, political and economic bloc- and the two camps proceeded to battle for world allegiance through development aid and military programs.[2]

Starting in Europe, the United States made an agreement, the Marshall Plan, which instituted a new aid design, ultimately benefiting the supplier of aid, not the receiver. Marianne Gronemeyer says of the new deal, In reality, the package of measures was the prototype of all future self-help, though it nevertheless remained a public gesture of giving. World politics had never before been so elegant. The boundaries between giving and taking were blurred to the point of unrecognizability.”[3]

In 1948, UN Resolution 200 aimed to recognize the “technical backwardness” of the “underdeveloped” nations of the world and the commitment of “developed” nations to assist them in modernizing. President Truman said of this new effort,

“More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas… We invite other countries to pool their technological resources in this undertaking. Their contributions will be warmly welcomed. This should be a cooperative enterprise in which all nations work together through the United Nations and its specialized agencies whenever practicable… The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing.”[4]

This became the basis for the hegemonic assault of the industrialized nations upon the rest of the world, not to mention the absolute refusal of these nations to recognize their part in creating the abject poverty experienced throughout the Global South.

The shift in focus from promoting individual and community subsistence that values diversity and local control, to a global-led marketplace that devalues such ideas and has allowed for the promotion and prioritization of development / aid projects that displace millions in the name of modernization; promote profits for corporations not people; undermine the autonomy of countries, subjecting them to the influence of richer and more politically and militarily powerful countries; culturally appropriate family planning and control by women over their own bodies and reproductive choices; an increased number of people unable to provide for their most basic needs with their own land and labor; destruction of  environments that for centuries have provided communities with all of their needs—these realities are the real foundation of modern aid programs. Enclosure of the commons throughout the world has also included the sale of communal lands to pay off national debt and the privatization of public services, all of which take communal control away from citizens and give it over to governments and corporations. Read the rest of this entry »

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“A purely reductionist science, biotechnology reduces all life to bits of information (genetic code) that can be arranged and rearranged at whim.”  –Ronnie Cummins, Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association

What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

Through genetic engineering, an organism’s DNA can be manipulated to highlight a desired trait- for example, the gene for drought resistance or pest resistance can be isolated in one organism and transferred to the target organism to produce a plant that now has an internal genetic resistance to drought or particular pests. This could and has been accomplished for thousands of years through traditional plant breeding methods, but proponents claim that genetic engineering speeds up and makes more precise this process through bioengineering. It should be noted that the majority of the scientific community opposing genetic engineering stress the fact that we would need to understand completely the processes of ecology, genetics and biology before ensuring that we can understand and anticipate all of the effects of creating, growing and consuming genetically engineered foods. This requires numerous, lengthy and rigorous testing of these products before placing on grocery store shelves for consumers. The most extensive studies have been done by the biotech corporations themselves and they are not sharing with the consuming public- and are not required to currently, as those findings are protected by law as confidential business information.

The most famous of genetically modified organisms thus far is Monsanto’s Bt gene being used in corn and cotton plants. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacteria that produces insect larvae lethal crystal proteins. This integration of the Bt genes into the corn allows the corn to produce its own pesticide, specifically against the European corn borer (Whitman, p.1).

Some food for thought… Read the rest of this entry »

For centuries the success of a community has depended on their ability to navigate the delicate process of sustainable food gathering and production. The Mesopotamian culture learned this lesson when the once rich soils became over irrigated, water logged and salinated. Rome destroyed the fertility of its North African provinces’ land due to over cultivation of grain, which resulted in desertification, soil erosion, watershed depletion and food supply depletion. Egypt seemed to be one of the only regions to dodge unsustainable agricultural practices, that is until industrial agriculture and the Aswan dam destroyed that delicate balance that had been maintained. Egypt, once self-sufficient, now imports 40% of its grain stocks.

During Columbus’ second visit to the America’s he brought with him sugar cane – this was an extremely rare and valuable commodity on the European market (they were addicted to tea!) and their diet. It was cultivated on plantations throughout the West Indies and north-east Brazil and became one of the major staples of the gruesome triangular trade between Africa, the Caribbean, etc. and Europe. This success of this trade system and the resulting capital accumulation of European markets relied on the slave labor of stolen Africans and the ripe, fertile land of the Caribbean and the Americas. Agriculture was transformed from a subsistence method of food production and survival to a commodity production method for a capitalist cash economy. It was the beginning of communities forced to work the land. That same land today is some of the most destroyed in those regions and the native populations are some of the most impoverished in the world.

“The extraction of surplus from the land, its forests, its plant and mineral wealth, was crucial to capital accumulation on a world scale. And it was accompanied by the exploitation, both direct and indirect, of the women and men of peasant and forest dwelling communities throughout the world.”[1] Read the rest of this entry »

WHO IS HUNGRY IN AMERICA?

There is a hidden epidemic in the United States. All over this country it is striking Americans of every age group and ethnicity, whether they live in cities or rural areas. And so, despite the diversity of targets, those suffering in this silent epidemic have two things in common: they are poor or low-income, and they are increasingly going without enough food. Although politicians talk about “poverty in America,” decision-makers avoid specifically mentioning the growing, and often deadly problem of hunger. George McGovern said in 1972, “To admit the existence of hunger in America is to confess that we have failed in meeting the most sensitive and painful of human needs. To admit the existence of widespread hunger is to cast doubt on the efficacy of our whole system.” Three decades later, evidence indicates that the existing system is failing a vast number of Americans. This Fact Sheet documents the epidemic.

Basic Hunger Facts Food insecurity has been described as: “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the acquisition of acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”1 Given this definition, it is estimated that 1 in 10 households in America goes hungry or is threatened by the possibility of hunger.2

  • Acccording to a Cornell University sociologist, the need to use food stamps is a common American experience that at least half of all Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 (four out of ten Americans in their adulthood) will face. 3 Of this group, 85% of African Americans will need to use food stamps.4 Of those that are eligible to use food stamps/program services, only 30% are successful in qualifying5 while of that group, only 15% of recipients report that their food stamp allotment lasts through the end of the month.6 Meanwhile, this already burdened food safety-net program which was designed to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, is under attack by threat of reduction of funding and ease of enrollment by policy makers.7
  • In 2002, 34.9 million people were food insecure, up 1.26 million from 2001. African American and Hispanic American households suffered the worst rates of hunger and food insecurity with 22% and 21.7%, respectively. Among the hungry, 39.1% are male, while 60% are female.8
  • 11.5% of rural families suffer from food insecurity; this is slightly lower than inner city areas, but significantly higher than suburban areas.9
  • Studies show that money which is devoted to food is the most elastic part of a family’s budget,10 as limited funds usually get allocated to fixed payments first, such as rent and utilities. Because of an increase in the nation’s poverty rate, this means food purchasing is the most compromised portion of the average family’s budget. So far in 2004, 35% of Americans have had to choose between food and rent, while 28% had to choose between medical care and food.11
  • Requests for emergency food aid increased by 19% in 2002; of this newly emerging rise in hungry and food insecure Americans, 48% of the recipients were families with children and 38% were adults with jobs. Due to the rise, shelters and other emergency food providers are reporting a reduction in supplies and therefore a forced reduction of number of times recipients can receive food.12
  • 63% of emergency food aid recipients hold a high school degree, as compared to the 84% overall US rate.13 Read the rest of this entry »