Food Policies Leave People Hungry
Posted on: Thursday, June 5, 2008
A version of this article was distributed by the National Women's Editorial Forum.
This week the U.N. convened world leaders in Rome to hammer out solutions to the food crisis. Once again policy leaders are forgetting that food is about people. Over the past few months, 30 countries have been wracked by food riots. The government of Haiti has been toppled. Rice reserves in the Philippines are now under armed guard. And its U.S. corporate agribusinesses that have a starring role in this disaster. Farmers in poor countries have gone broke by the millions because they can’t compete with the artificially low prices of U.S. food imports.
Take Mexico, for example. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. demanded that Mexico open up its markets to cheap U.S. corn. Since NAFTA took effect, U.S. corn exports to Mexico have tripled, flooding the Mexican market and causing domestic corn prices to drop by more than 70 percent. As a result, most of the country’s 15 million corn farmers have gone from being poor—but getting by—to watching their children go hungry. Mexican President Felipe Calderon explains the food crisis in his country as a direct outcome of U.S. food policy.
The same story is repeated in nearly every country where the food crisis is raging. Millions of rural families from Colombia to Cameroon have been forced to go from growing their own food to buying imported staple items, putting them at the mercy of global markets. In the past year, the costs of basics like corn, rice, and wheat has doubled and tripled. Farming families whose livelihoods were destroyed by U.S. agribusiness can no longer afford to buy food from these same companies. That injustice—not any absolute “food shortage”—is at the heart of today’s crisis.
Meanwhile, U.S. agribusiness is making a killing. Last month Cargill announced that its third-quarter profits were up 86 percent. They’ve already raked in over a billion dollars this year, in about the same amount of time that another 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty (surviving on less than $1 a day) because of rising food costs.
Clearly, our global food system is broken. So what would fix it?
It seems that small-holder, sustainable agriculture—precisely the type of farming that’s been devastated by agribusiness—has the best potential to resolve the global food crisis. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of a four-year United Nations study by 400 experts on agriculture and development released in April.
But if local, sustainable agriculture is the way to go, there’s another, overlooked dimension to solving the food crisis: the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers are women. In the poorest countries, where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and produce 80 percent of all food.
That means that policies aiming to resolve the food crisis need to also weed out the widespread discrimination that bars women farmers from owning land and from accessing credit, seeds, tool, and training. Agricultural subsidies were originally conceived to protect small-scale farmers from poverty. We still need to do that—and on a global scale. Today, subsidies can play a positive role in building the capacity of women farmers to grow food sustainably.
It’s high time to put the human rights and productive capacity of small farmers at the center of agriculture policy. The Rome summit presented us with an opportunity to rethink food policy. Unfortunately the outcome continues the same misguided polices of free trade instead of investing in local food production. It’s time to realize that the world’s small farmers—especially women—are our best hope for feeding people and protecting the planet.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Communications Director
Archives"Press Room" Home October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Forbidden Talk - Prostitution in the Middle East (Levant TV, October 7, 2014)
Women's Organizations Fighting Against Gender-Based Violence in Iraq (Girls' Globe, October 1, 2014)
We all know about jihadists, but what about those waging an 'anti-jihad'? (Reuter, October 1, 2014)
Breaking the gridlock of climate change negotiations: learning from allies (openDemocracy, September 29, 2014)
Arab and Jewish midwives find a common language (Haaretz, September 12, 2014)