"Because you can't hug a tree if you can't find one."

4/24/2008

Food or Fuel?

In the last few weeks, the insanity of turning food crops into fuel for developed-world cars has become apparent, as rising food prices all over the world affect populations that were already threatened by hunger in such far flung countries as Pakistan, Mexico, Egypt and Haiti. This is the logic of our consumer driven economy, where morality is turned on its head. While the world worries about getting enough to eat, the over-developed countries are more concerned with feeding their cars and trucks. Rather than accept that the days of cheap fuel are over, we choose to rely on techno-fixes that convert food resources needed in some areas of the world, to energy "needed" in other areas. Consumer conveniences trump the survival of millions of starving people.

Americans may not realize that our government's policies caused countries like Haiti to depend on the US for food in the first place. By flooding the Haitian market with cheap imported rice, the US caused the collapse of local agriculture. Farmers couldn't compete, lost their land, and moved to the city to look for work in the assembly plants. Haiti went from producing 95% of its rice in the 1980s, to importing 80% of it from the US today.

Haitian President Rene Preval has
promised to subsidize the cost of rice, but said the solution in the long term will be to grow more food locally. But can such a plan succeed if it contradicts the US's policy of maintaining dependent countries that are markets for our exports, and provide the cheap labor needed to produce our consumer goods? The same scenario is repeated in many countries: Mexico (traditionally a corn producer) now imports corn from the US, and former Mexican farmers cross the border "illegally" in search of work.

In the mean time the US, which is responsible for the situation, should be responsible for the food subsidy as well. Instead, our government helps further enrich agribusiness companies by subsidizing biofuels.

This is not a situation that can be fixed with temporary food aid. This is a result of the basic structure of the global economy. People in the West need to look at the way we live, the way we consume, and the government policies that support this way of life.

4 comments:

Crafty Green Poet said...

You're so right - agrofuels are insane and we in the west really do need to rethink how we live our lives.

Esteban Bartlett said...

Rejin,
Thanks for your excellent comment about Haiti. Anyone interested in participating in a 3 day fast to express our solidarity with the famished in the world today, and raise our voices about the root causes? If so, join myself of Agricultural Missions and Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville, and others like the Presbyterian Church Hunger Program and farmer organizations around the world, to take action and push forward our analysis from the grassroots about the structural causes of this food crisis.

Email me at: sbartlett@ag-missions.org for more information, to become part of this effort and to take part in short and long term actions in partnership with social movements like the Via Campesina...

peace through justice,

Stephen Bartlett
Agricultural Missions
www.agriculturalmissions.org
Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville

Rejin/Urban Botany said...

Esteban,
Thanks for the info. I hope a lot of people take part in this fast and in other actions to raise awareness of this issue. Hunger is not something we should ignore as long as there is fuel available to fill our gas tanks.

Jarreau J. said...

Your post on Haiti was much needed. In the west we are so used to ignoring problems we can not capitalize on.. unfortunately so.

The west is so worried about fuel when people are rioting and dying just to put food in their mouths

Hopefully we wont turn our backs to this crisis.