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Montreal Review, June, 2009


It seems that Thomas Malthus was wrong when in 1798 he predicted that the population growth would outpace food production and with this an age of widespread starvation would come. The Green Revolution of the 1970s that transformed the world agriculture with the introduction of new technologies and chemicals showed that food can be produced as much as needed no matter how big is the population on earth.

But today, the number of hungry people continue to raise. In 2008 the World Food Organization estimated 907 million people experiencing famine. If the production of food is not any more a problem why are many people still hungry, asks Frederic Kaufman in a report for Harper's magazine, entitled "Let them eat cash " (June, 2009). The same question poses the World Food Organization. The answer that politicians, businessmen, leaders and NGO's workers give is the shortage of money. Lack of money, not lack of food is the problem.

Kaufman reported the High Level Conference on World Food Security: Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy held in Rome in June 2008. Throughout the three days of events in Rome, forty-two Heads of State and Government, one hundred high-level Ministers and sixty non-governmental and civil society organizations from one hundred eighty-one member countries assured each other that there is enough money and the rich states and private donors will provide financing and technology for the African countries in need. So the money, as it seems, were secured. At the Conference the World Food Organization accepted the ambitious plan to fight with the famine not with traditional measures such as direct food aid, but with investments in local farming, with support and development of the local markets. The goal was the creation of self-sufficient communities, which are able to feed themselves alone.

But Kaufman is a skeptic. History of famine is sad. Paleolitic humans, says Kaufman, ate better than we eat, worked less than we work, slept a lot more than we sleep, and spent a great deal of their time hanging out, doing nothing. The change in this wonderful existence came when the Nature became harsh and the accessible food diminished. Then the so-called savage hunter gatherers divided in kins and groups; the leaders started organized distribution, and following the human nature, left some starving while other prospered in plenty of food.

Today the politics is the basic reason for poverty and lack of food is the opinion of Frederic Kaufman. In "Let them eat cash" he recalls a conversation with the economist, Nobel Prize laureate and philosopher Amartya Sen. Sen explanation of existence of famine is simple: "Famine happens when rulers are alienated from those they rule, and a functioning democracy is a simple way to remove such alienation. Famine happens when there is no free press, because rulers tend to feel embarrassed when photographs of starving children appear on the front page."

The famine would be eliminated when Africa's corrupted governments and autocratic political regimes are eliminated. But how can this happen? Kaufman has no answer.

Now, the Western countries are going to invest resources in poor countries with the hope that the natural forces of money, technology and market will limit the number of starving people. Meanwhile there is another parallel process that happens in these countries. In the May issue of The Economist (2009) a short article is announcing that over the past two years as much as 20 million of hectares of farmland in Sudan, Ethiopia and Congo has been quietly handed over to capital-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China - all undemocratic regimes. Is there any hope for the people of the poor African countries when their alienated governments make a deal with other undemocratic governments to exploit their territory?

The Economist magazine writes in "Cornering foreign fields": "One of the biggest problems of large-scale commercial farming in poor countries is that well-connected farmers find it more profitable to seek special favours than to farm. There are serious doubts about whether countries acquiring land are paying the true cost of it. Host governments usually claim the farmland they offer is vacant, state-owned property. That is often untrue."

The small farmers are often victims in such deals. Moreover government-to-government deals, according The Economist, will never help the poor as much as free trade and stronger property rights.

At the moment, writes The Economist, too many of these businesses are designed to benefit local elites more than local farmers; the new investors often use foreign labor and export most of their production, harming with this the local markets.

This is the same what Kaufman argues - the lack of money is not a cause for today's famine, the lack of fair governments is the basic reason. Montreal Review


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