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Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Hidden Battle to Control the World's Food Supply

The rise in global food prices has sparked a number of protests in recent weeks, highlighting the worsening epidemic of global hunger. The World Bank estimates world food prices have risen 80 percent over the last three years and that at least thirty-three countries face social unrest as a result. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned the growing global food crisis has reached emergency proportions. In recent weeks, food riots have also erupted in Haiti, Niger, Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Protests have also flared in Morocco, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mexico and Yemen. In most of West Africa, the price of food has risen by 50 percent -- in Sierra Leone, 300 percent. The World Food Program has issued a rare $500 million emergency appeal to deal with the growing crisis. Raj Patel is a writer, activist and former policy analyst with Food First, which is based in the Bay Area. He has worked for the World Bank, World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and he's also protested them on four continents. He has just come out with a new book called Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. He recently joined me in San Francisco to talk about the book and the food-price crisis.

Raj Patel: There are two kinds of stories that we can tell about the food prices. One is an economic story, and that's a story about a perfect storm of poor harvests and a demand for meat in developing countries, which is diverting grain, and the high price of oil, which is driving up food -- farm inputs, and at the same time, the biofuels boom, the process of growing fuels in order -- sorry, growing food in order to burn it rather than eat it. All of these are economic factors that are driving up the price of food. But at the same time, there's a political story here, and it's a longer-term political story about how countries have been forced to abandon their support for farmers and to abandon things like grain supplies and grain stores. And this is a longer-term story, and it involves organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization that have a fairly iron control over the economies of most of the poorest countries in the world. And what the World Bank and what the WTO and, to some extent, the International Monetary Fund have done is force these countries to tie their hands behind their back, effectively, and to bind them very firmly to an international economy in food. And the consequence of that is that when the price of food goes up, these economies have very little recourse and very little possibility of defending themselves economically. The Hidden Battle to Control the World's Food Supply By Amy Goodman,


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