FAO: more free trade, more hunger

18 June 2008 by Esther Vivas

The high level summit of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (the FAO) held in Rome on Food Security ended on June 5. The conclusions of the gathering do not indicate a change in the policy trends which have been in force these last years and which have led to the current situation.

The declarations of good intentions made by various governments and the promises of millions of euros to end hunger in the world are not capable of ending the structural causes that have generated this crisis. On the contrary, the proposals made by the general secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, to increase food production by 50% and to eliminate the export limits imposed by some of the countries affected, only reinforces the root causes of this crisis rather than addressing and guaranteeing the food security of the majority of the people in the global South.

The monopoly of certain multinational corporations in each one of the links in the chain of food production, from seeds to fertilizers to marketing and distribution of what we eat, is something that was not dealt with during this summit. However, despite the crisis, the principle seed companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, have realized a growing increase in profits as have the principle chemical fertilizer corporations. The largest food processing companies such as Nestle and Unilever have also announced an increase in benefits, though less large that those who control the first rungs in the food system ladder. In the same way the large distributors of food such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour have confirmed that their profits continue to rise.

The results of the FAO summit reflect the consensus reached among the UN, the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

(WB), and the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

(IMF) to maintain economic and trade policies of South-North dependency and to support the agribusiness transnationals. The recommendations promoted in favor of a greater opening of the markets of the South, to subsidize food imports as part of development aid, and betting on a new green revolution all point in this direction.

Excluded from the debate were those who work and care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. for the land, the hands with whom our food policies ought to be placed, the men and women family farmers. When representatives of farmer organizations tried to present their proposals at the official inauguration of the summit, they were removed by force. In high level meetings that preceded this one, a greater participation of social collectives was permitted, whereas now, before the gravity of the situation, the doors were kept closed, a fact that has been denounced by the international network of the Via Campesina.

A resolution of the crisis situation implies putting an end to the current agricultural model and food system which puts the interests of the large transnational corporations ahead of the food needs of millions of people. Is it necessary to deal with the structural causes; the neo-liberal policies that have been systematically applied in the last 30 years, promoted by the WB, the IMF and the World Trade Organization (WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

), with the U.S. and the European Union in front. Some policies have meant an economic liberalization on a global scale, the unrestrained opening of markets, and the privatization of lands dedicated to local supply and a conversion of that land to export monocultures, which have all led us to the grave situation of food insecurity at the present time. According to the WB it is calculated that 850 million people have been suffering hunger (prior to the “crisis”) and that an additional 100 million will be added to this group due to the crisis.

The way out of this crisis requires the regulating and controlling of the market and of international trade; rebuilding national economies; returning control of food production to the family farmers and guaranteeing their access to land, seeds and water; getting agriculture out of the free trade agreements and the WTO; and putting an end to the speculation on hunger.

The market cannot solve this problem. To counter the declarations of the number 2 at the FAO, José María Sumpsi, who affirmed that this is an issue of supply and demand due to the rise in consumption in emerging countries such as Indian, China and Brazil, we must remember that never before has there been a more bountiful harvest in the world.

Today humanity produces three times what was produced in the 1960s, while the population has only doubled. There is no production crisis in agriculture, but the impossibility of accessing food by large populations who cannot pay current prices. The solution cannot be more free trade because, as has been demonstrated, more free trade implies more hunger and less access to food. We do not want to throw more fuel on the fire.

Esther Vivas

est née en 1975 à Sabadell (Etat espagnol). Elle est auteure de plusieurs livres et de publications sur les mouvements sociaux, la consommation responsable et le développement durable. Elle a publié en français En campagne contre la dette (Syllepse, 2008) et est coauteure des livres en espagnol Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro (2012), Resistencias globales. De Seattle a la crisis de Wall Street (2009) est coordinatrice des livres Supermarchés, non merci et Où va le commerce équitable ?, entre autres.
Elle a activement participé au mouvement anti-globalisation et anti-guerre à Barcelone, de même qu’elle a contribué à plusieurs éditions du Forum Social Mondial, du Forum Social Européen et du Forum Social Catalan. Elle travaille actuellement sur des questions comme la souveraineté alimentaire et le commerce équitable.
Elle est membre de la rédaction de la revue Viento Sur et elle collabore fréquemment avec des médias conventionnels tels que Público et avec des médias alternatifs comme El Viejo Topo, The Ecologist, Ecología Política, Diagonal, La Directa, entre autres.
Elle est également membre du Centre d’Études sur les Mouvements Sociaux (CEMS) à l’Université Pompeu Fabra.
@esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com

Other articles in English by Esther Vivas (28)

0 | 10 | 20



8 rue Jonfosse
4000 - Liège- Belgique

00324 60 97 96 80