Food prices continue rising around the world giving rise to intolerable conditions in the most vulnerable countries like famine, often combined with drought or flooding, the perverse effects of climate change. Faced with the seriousness of the crisis, the masks slip and the speeches get emptier with biofuel prescriptions, the supposed benefits of free trade and agriculture for export.
Now head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick announces that those food prices will stay high for several years and that it is necessary to strengthen food aid to manage the crisis. Zoellick, who took up that post after being chief negotiator at the World Trade Organization for the United States, knows what he is talking about: from that former position he did all he could to destroy countries’ food sovereignty in favour of the interests of big agribusiness multinational corporations.
Even that prescription of food aid is in fact yet more covert assistance to those same multinationals who have traditionally sold to grain to the World Food Programme, which then charitably hands it over to starving people, all on condition that they themselves do not produce the foods they need. The big winners in the crisis are also the main big winners in the promotion of biofuels: the multinational corporations that dominate national and international grain trade, seed businesses and who make pesticides and herbicides.
In many cases, the same companies dominate these last two sectors: globally, Monsanto is the main commercial seed company and the fifth in agro-toxins. Bayer is the first in agro-toxins and the seventh in seeds. Syngenta is the second in agri-toxins and the third in seeds. Dupont is the second in seeds and the sixth in agro-toxins. Including BASF and Dow (third and fourth in agro-toxins), these six corporations control all the world’s genetically manipulated seeds, which coincidentally is also the solution they put forward to every new problem – problems they have been prime movers in bringing about.
Along with the businesses that control more than 80% of the world cereals market – Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Bunge, Dreyfus – all these corporations have profited quite shamelessly from food shortages, the encouragement and subsidy of biofuels and the increase in oil prices (agro-toxins are petro-chemicals). GRAIN’s excellent report "The business of killing by hunger" documents these profits: for 2007, Cargill’s profits increased 36%; Archer Daniels Midland’s by 67 %; ConAgra by 30%; Bunge’s by 49%; and Dreyfus’s profits in the last quarter of 2007 grew by 77%. Monsanto’s profits increase was 44% over 2006 and Dupont-Pioneer’s 19%.
To this situation one can add the fact that, faced with the financial and property crisis, the big speculative investment funds transferred money by the billion to control agricultural products and commodities in international markets. Right now it is reckoned these funds control 60% of wheat and large percentages of other basic grains. The greater part of the next few years’ soya harvest is already bought up as futures. These foods have become just one more object of stock market speculation, whose price changes and rises not on the movements of local markets or on people’s need but on speculative snatches.
Despite the global beating ordinary people have taken, worse for the most dispossessed, the multinationals are still not satisfied and are going after more. They are now preparing the next hijack, monopolizing via patents the genetic characteristics they consider useful to make plants resistant to drought, salinity and other climatic stress factors.
The governments who serve them, like Mexico’s, try gasoline to put out the fire: instead of food sovereignty and rural families controlling seeds and inputs, they propose genetically modified products carrying even more changes and risks, genetically modified maize to increase contamination and dependence and that even the most impoverished rural families, with public subsidies, sow biofuels instead of food.
Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group
Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal