ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Nous allons vers de nouvelles crises alimentaires »
by Charlotte Bozonnet
Translated Thursday 18 June 2009, by
Development. One year after the conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN rapporteur on the Right to Food sounds the alarm bell.
It was a year ago when more than fifty heads of State, including the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who went in person to the FAO conference, in the middle of a food crisis, and spoke of significant assistance for farming in the poorest countries. L’Humanité reviews the situation with Olivier de Schutter, special UN rapporteur on the Right to Food.
HUMA: Did the big States keep the promises they made during the FAO summit of June of 2008?
SCHUTTER: Nobody can answer this question, and this is significant: financial commitments were made, but there is no follow-up or control to know if they result in concrete actions. The States purchase their credibility at rock-bottom prices. Of course, if they had to show proofs every six months, they would be a lot more careful. Setting up such a follow-up, encouraging the publication and the follow-up of the books are among the current challenges.
HUMA: Yet, there has been a major reinvestment in agriculture over the last year.
SCHUTTER: Yes, there has been a massive revival of the interest in agriculture with the freeing up of important sums of money. But money is not the core of the issue. The fundamental question is to know towards which type of agriculture and for who those investments are being made. Yet, many of the recent investments went towards agro-industrial projects with harmful consequences to small farmers’ capacity to increase their wages.
Considerable efforts were made to revive agricultural supply, and it is true that the crops have been very good in 2008. The price of raw products decreased significantly on the international markets. However, they remain very high on local markets. According to a study of the FAO done in 58 developing countries, 80% of the countries have higher agricultural prices higher than a year before.
SCHUTTER: Because nobody looked at the political economy of hunger: namely that chains of food production and distribution are held by oligopolies, a small number of economic traders only slightly controlled and who benefited from the crisis. They did not pass on the international decrease on to the local markets. Today, the number of people suffering from hunger in the world most probably exceeds one billion.
HUMA: As announced by Nicolas Sarkozy during the FAO summit, funds have been allocated by France to invest in African agriculture. What do you think of this type of initiative?
SCHUTTER: Here comes the same question again: what type of investment do we want to make? I do not know to which projects the allocated sums will go, but I warn against approaches that aim “granary countries”, i.e. fertile and promising areas from the point of view of the production, aiming at returns on investments as high as possible.
The logic behind this is that the food crisis would be linked to an insufficient food supply. It equals to forgetting that people are hungry, for they are poor because they live in zones that are not fertile where the environment is extremely harsh. Those small farmers are those being forgotten in these investments. There are numerous ways to invest in agriculture which will not fight hunger. I therefore appeal for the States to choose, among the various possibilities, what can reduce hunger and malnutrition best.
HUMA: In the end, how do you assess the last year?
SCHUTTER: I am quite critical. The real issues have not been dealt with. We haven’t worked at all on the structural causes of the food crisis. No progress has been made on the issue concerning biofuels, neither on the current phenomenon of massive acquisition of farming land in developing countries, where the opinion of local people is not always taken into consideration. Neither is there progress on the fight against speculation; while its responsibility in the last crisis is widely acknowledged and that technical solutions are available. Everyone was reassured by the good crops of 2008. I think we are heading towards more food crises, as early as 2010, because the governments have not taken the situation seriously.