World food crisis. Between demand and speculation

World food crisis. Between demand and speculation

By Dra. Renee Isabel Mengo

More than availability, the problem of food is the inability to acquire it from the poorest countries and the most marginalized sectors in each country. The unequal and unjust world order that condemns so many beings to poverty and hunger, also causes a colossal destruction of natural resources and pollution of the environment, unleashing processes of global environmental degradation such as climate change.


The structural causes of the food crisis are related to the neoliberal policies applied indiscriminately in the course of the last thirty years on a planetary scale, which are responsible for the current situation.

The current and permanent situation resides in the exclusionary structure, in the inequity of the capitalist system, which condemns millions of beings to marginalization, poverty and exists only to guarantee that wealth continues to be concentrated in the few millionaires and in the great world corporations.

The problem is not that there is a lack of food in the world, but that it is in the wrong place and at a price that the poorest cannot afford. The current food crisis has much to do with the speculation of international finance capital and the monopoly of the fuel market.

The world is experiencing a food crisis, as various reports from multinational organizations attest. Crisis characterized by shortages and shortages of food products. The number of hungry people on the planet is estimated at almost one billion. Even before the crisis, as an expression of the inhuman character of the world system, the number of hungry people in the world was estimated at eight hundred and fifty million.

More than availability, the problem of food is the inability to acquire it from the poorest countries and the most marginalized sectors in each country. To this limitation to acquire food from the underdeveloped nations and the world's poor, we now add scarcity and famine (1).

The price of cereals has risen dramatically, causing the poorest countries to suffer shortages - because they cannot afford them - of the most basic foods, which in many cases is their only food. Up to 80% of household spending in the poorest countries is spent on food, compared, for example, with 15% of those in the US.

In the case of rice, for example, the price has doubled. The unrest in the countries hardest hit by the crisis has already caused disturbances of greater or lesser intensity in Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan or Yemen, and threatens with igniting the conflict elsewhere.

A growing number of experts consider that global cereal production has not decreased, but they do not rule out that food speculation is taking place by those who store grain to increase its price and make money with it.

Why have basic food prices skyrocketed? It is a cluster of causes:

Europe has been hit with poor harvests since 2005.

Australia, one of the world's leading rice exporters, is experiencing a sixth year of drought, which has decimated its production.

The growing demand for biofuels made from corn to fight climate change and as an alternative to rising oil prices.

The economic growth of China and India makes them eaters of basic materials. While it is true that demand is growing thanks to the development of China and India, this does not explain the current shortage of food. On the one hand, in China, India and in general more than half of the world population, the basic diet is obtained from the cultivation of rice, a cereal that has not been traditionally used as Biodiesel, preferring instead corn. On the other hand, the total food production for biofuels is a tiny part of the total produced, so that it does not explain the huge increase in the price of food.

The decline in the percentage of GDP invested in agriculture worldwide.

The impact of climate change may already be being felt in the bad weather conditions that are hitting crops globally.

The increase in the price of oil makes the fuel used by agricultural machinery and in the manufacture of fertilizers more expensive, as well as in the transport of inputs that are used in agricultural production and harvesting.

Another cause of the current food crisis is pointed out as the immense amount of land in the world that was used to produce food and is now dedicated to crops to produce the so-called biodiesel, or fuel made from products such as corn, sugarcane. sugar, fig and others.

That is to say, food that instead of going to meet the needs of the billions of hungry people is used to burn it as fuel in vehicles and factories.

It must be recognized that, claiming that biofuel production is the cause of the food crisis only reflects bias towards current economic markets.

The structural causes of this crisis are related to the neoliberal policies applied indiscriminately in the course of the last thirty years on a planetary scale, which are responsible for the current situation.

Speculation, the liberalization of agricultural trade and the monopolistic practices of the business conglomerates that dominate the sector are the causes of the strong rebound in food prices around the world. The world population increases and the development of countries like India or China increases the number of people with the capacity to consume a lot.

Institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), led by the United States and the European Union, have been its main promoters. The systematic application in the countries of the South of structural adjustment policies, the collection of foreign debt and the privatization of public services and goods have been a constant in this period, together with the trade liberalization resulting from the negotiations in the WTO and free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union (2).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) price index, which measures the market cost of cereals, dairy, meat, sugar and oils, was 57 percent higher in March 2008 than a year ago .

The current problem has much deeper roots, being a structural problem of how we have organized the global economy. Foods such as cereals, coffee, sugar, are bought and sold years before their production, in the so-called “Futures Market” in Chicago. There, the prices that will be paid to the peasant producers of the harvest of the coming year are set, initiating a speculative process that only increases the price of these products when they have not even been planted. Thus, for example, a peasant producer of corn, although this year the market price doubles or triples, he will continue to receive the same money for his product as last year. Therefore, if the producer is not the one who benefits from the increase, who does it? Well, the large multinational distributors, which are the ones that buy the production from the peasants, imposing a forced downward price on them, since they take advantage of the fact that they are the only buyers that the peasant can access, and initiating a huge speculative process on food. , so these are stored to cause shortages and sold when prices have risen. These large multinationals are the only ones with the capacity to store and transport thousands of tons of food, so that governments have to pay the price they impose. It is no coincidence that cereals are the foods that cause this crisis because in addition to being the basis of the world's diet, they are susceptible to being the object of this unbridled speculation, since they are elements that do not perish and can be stored for long periods of time (which it does not happen with other types of food, such as horticultural products).

It is the multinationals dedicated to food products (Cargill, Monsanto) that are currently breaking profit records, at the cost of starving half the planet. To this is added the role of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, which for decades have instigated a certain economic order at the international level.

The real cause of the current and permanent food crisis lies in the exclusionary structure, in the inequity of the capitalist system, which condemns millions of beings to marginalization, poverty and only exists to guarantee that wealth continues to be concentrated in the few millionaires and in the great world corporations.

Both mentioned causes of the current food crisis have a lot to do with the speculation of international finance capital and the monopoly of the fuel market.

Context and model

Neoliberal policies have had a global dimension and have generalized a model of agriculture and food, both in the South and in the North, serving the interests of capital. The primary function of food, feeding people, has been subordinated to the economic objectives of a few multinational companies that monopolize the food production chain, from seeds to large areas, and these have been the main beneficiaries of the crisis situation.

Academics, political advisers, conservatives, liberals and progressives blame "China for eating too much meat" (Professor Paul Krugman, Princeton University and New York Times columnist), "growth in demand", " inflation". Progressives point to the diversion of production towards biofuels such as 'biodiesel', the lack of government planning and the distortion of priorities (3).

The increase in food aid has only a temporary impact, in limited regions, on a fraction of the affected population. Blaming the growth in demand obviously requires asking about the "lack of supply" and the structural characteristics (land ownership, ownership patterns, the pursuit of profitability, and class-state relations) that shape it. Equally important is the fact that, even where food is available on the market, the prices of that food are out of reach for most rural and urban workers, peasants and the unemployed. Critics from the point of view of supply and demand omit a class analysis of the "producers" who determine the price system (according to their oligopolistic market power and their criteria for obtaining profits) and the consumers (workers informal and formal with low wages, whose incomes are declining). Capitalist farmers are in a good position to protect and even increase their profits by shifting their added input costs to the weaker market power of consumers, aided and abetted by neoliberal free market political regimes.

Progressives who blame biofuels for the crisis (rising prices are due to the diversion of grains and land use towards fuel production) do not answer the most elementary structural questions: What classes came to state power and shaped economic policies and allowed this "detour" to occur? The large private and state loans of the 1970s due to the availability of cheap loans led to the growth of indebtedness. Private banks, companies and manufacturers, indebted real estate developers, saddled, thanks to their powerful influences and direct relationships with the state, their private debts to the state and, ultimately, to taxpayers, a phenomenon later described as' socialization of private debt "or" payment of the guarantee to the private sector. "

The state was faced with ever-increasing debt obligations (the so-called 'debt crisis'), turned to the IMF and the World Bank for loans and, more importantly, to obtain its certificate for huge loans from the commercial banks. The IMF and the World Bank demanded fundamental structural changes from the state to grant the loans, and these conditional loans implied a complete transformation in investment, trade, consumption and income policies that had an important effect on the class structure and composition. of the ruling class.

The demands of the IMF and the World Bank included the reallocation of government credits, loans and technical assistance for the large agricultural exporters in unique goods because they were the ones who obtained the hard currency necessary to repay the credits and send benefits to shareholders, executives and owners of multinational companies. The IMF and the World Bank agreed to negotiate the refinancing of the debtor states' outstanding principal and interest payments on the condition that they privatize and denationalize all monopoly and for-profit state enterprises. Privatization and denationalization resulted in large-scale foreign purchases of vast tracts of fertile agricultural land and the production and export of grain by national oligarchs and foreign investors.

The set of these policies received the name of «neoliberalism», a model that combined socio-economic policies directed and regulated by the state with the aim of increasing the role and power of foreign and domestic elites in favor of the specialization of markets worldwide.

The rise of this new configuration of power during the 1980s and 1990s dictated key political and economic decisions regarding investments (their allocations, sectors and subsectors), as well as markets (internal and external), products (food, fuel , commodities) and prices (oligopolistic cartels). The basic guiding principle for the domestic and foreign ruling classes was specialization in complementary activities in the world economy (what orthodox economists call "specialization based on comparative advantage"). The integration of the foreign and local ruling classes was lucrative and they supported each other: private capital and consumer goods flowed through their international financial and consumer goods circuits.

The medium-term and large-scale consequences of this new configuration of power for agriculture and food production manifested themselves in just over a decade. In the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented agricultural crisis broke out: the influence of the agricultural export sector of the ruling class and the implementation of its policies in favor of the "free market" resulted in the end of control. on prices and on its meteoric rise. Prices reflected social relations of production and distribution: domination of land and investments by large capitalist farmers shaped "supply" and wholesale prices; the giant global commercial suppliers ("the supermarkets") set prices for the direct consumer. There was "competition" between oligopolistic producers and distributors to see who could get the highest prices and highest profits.

Ruling class agricultural exporters ended subsidies for family-level food-producing farmers and increased export subsidies for producers of essential commodities. Family farmers went bankrupt and their land was bought by real estate speculators (self-proclaimed developers) for commercial uses, golf courses, resorts, luxury gated communities and basic goods for export; paddy fields became country clubs; Corn and wheat prices doubled in the ten months from September 2007 to July 2008. Profits added to Cargill's bottom line. Quarterly profit increased 86% to $ 1.03 billion during the third quarter ending February 29, 2008. It was not just a case, as the orthodox would say, of increased "demand," but of fact that hundreds of billions of money from speculators flowed into consumer goods markets. Under conditions of markets tightly controlled by large agricultural businesses, grain reserves fell to their lowest levels in 35 years in relation to demand, mainly because the large agro-capitalists wanted to limit food supply and increase fuel production, at the same time. that derived capital for speculation in commodities. As a result of the influence of the rule of the agro-capitalist giants and their investment and land use policies, average food prices increased by 45% between July 2007 and April 2008 and are projected to rise by 15 % more for July.

The neoliberal offensive that began in the 1980s allowed, in addition to the increase in the exploitation of workers, direct access by large transnational capitals to the market for raw materials, together with a significant drop in prices. Our hypothesis is that a new battle was fought by big capital for control of the commodity market that was reconfigured, opening the way and enhancing the impact of the factors that today appear as emerging from the so-called “food crisis” (4).

This reconfiguration of the market, which particularly during the 1990s and the first years of the growth cycle of this century, contributed to the recovery of the profit rate, would be manifesting today as a contradiction that in the next period could precipitate its fall. The astronomical rise in the price of oil, closely associated with the geopolitical instability derived from the conflictive relationship of the United States with Iran and the chaotic Iraqi situation, could also act in this last sense.

The demands to free up capital markets, reduce state expenditures, privatize companies and sources of raw materials to be appropriated by large transnational capitals, were constant in this period. The demand to reduce state expenditures as a form of payment of foreign debts was associated in many countries with the elimination of subsidies for seeds and fertilizers, intended to sustain the production of basic foods for the population. The cases of Mexico, the Philippines or Haiti (previously self-sufficient in the production of their basic food products), are eloquent. The combination of the elimination of subsidies, trade liberalization and free capital inflows resulted in the liquidation of small peasant economies and the entry of the same products at very low prices (thanks to strong state subsidies) from, for example, the United States.

The distribution of corn imports from the US was monopolized in Mexico by transnational companies such as Cargill. After the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, the price of corn was cut in half and Mexico became a net importer of that grain. Thanks to the interference of the World Trade Organization, the Philippines ended up as a net importer of rice, with Haiti suffering the same fate, currently importing 80% from the United States. As a result, 70% of poor countries are now net food importers. The policies of international organizations also favored export crops that generated abundant foreign exchange earmarked for the payment of foreign debts. The World Bank allocated special aid to governments for these types of crops that began to occupy the best lands. The stimulus of conversion to export monocultures, even in countries like Argentina that continue to be self-sufficient in agri-food production, is symptomatic. Monoculture and dependence on the powerful firms that, like Monsanto and Syngenta, monopolize advances in genetic engineering while maintaining control over patents on transgenic seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, are aspects that go hand in hand.

Over three decades, a reconfiguration of the food and raw materials market was imposed, destroying the self-sufficient character of many countries. In principle, there was a decrease in the price of food and raw materials that operated until approximately 1998 and that constituted a factor that, combined with the increase in the exploitation of workers, led to an increase in the rate of capital gain, paving the way for a relative recovery from the depression suffered since the 1970s.

The transnational agribusiness companies and the commodity cartels that control the agricultural and food trade such as Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniel Midland, announced in 2008 that their profits had increased 86% compared to 2007, 49% compared to 2006 and 42% compared to 2007, respectively. Louis Dreyfus (France), a private trader of agricultural commodities, with annual sales in excess of US $ 22 billion, who does not provide information about his earnings.

On the other hand, the oligopolistic companies that distribute almost all the fuel in the world, seek alternatives that allow them to continue controlling the world market, for this reason they pour capital into the production of so-called biofuels and natural gas. Seeking with the former to reduce their dependence on producing countries while continuing to control the markets.

Vicious circle that attributes the origin of the rise in food prices to either the increase in demand from China and India, inclement weather, the depreciation of the dollar, the increase in biofuel production or the financial speculation unleashed on the prices of raw materials particularly since the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States. To deny the relative influence of these aspects on the variation of prices would be absurd, but to pretend to attribute to any of them or to their possible combinations the ultimate cause of such irrationality constitutes, to say the least, a mockery of the workers and the millions of poor and hungry of the world.

It is necessary to advance in an accurate definition of the role that food occupies along with other products such as oil, iron, steel, copper, etc., in the capitalist mode of production. In the first place, cereals and oilseeds, milk, sugar, among others, are not only consumer goods of the population, but represent, like oil, which in turn plays a key role in the production of the rest primary products-, key determinants of the price of wages, raw materials and intermediate materials in capitalist production. When we speak of "food" or "oil", we must think of two social classes: one dispossessed of all means of production (workers and poor people) for which these determinations represent food, means of transport, heating, that is, , indispensable means of consumption to satisfy their basic needs; another, owner of the means of production (the capitalist class) for which "food" and "oil" among others, basically represent payment of wages and raw materials or production costs (except in the case of the capitalists who produce them, for those who represent the “final product”).

The income of the world's 50 largest companies is higher than the combined income of 160 countries, and global military spending is 20 times the money needed to eradicate hunger. It is not by chance that, in the structure of the imperialist capitalist world, the backward countries have had little industrial development, resulting most of the time, mainly producers of raw materials.

From 1990 to 2005, 3% of the world's forest area, that is, almost 13 million hectares (130 thousand square kilometers), or what is the same, almost three times the size of the Dominican Republic, has been destroyed among other activities mainly to dedicate them to agriculture. Almost 200 square kilometers are deforested on the planet each year.

Alert voices

In the course of 2008 looking for alternatives to the pressing situation, various meetings were held, among which the following stand out:

- Extraordinary meeting of the UN in Bern:

In Bern-Switzerland, between April 24 and 28, 2008, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon (5), convened, without access to the press and the public, the heads of 27 international agencies, including the of the World Bank, the World Food Program (WFP) (6) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), to coordinate measures that alleviate the global food crisis, and try to outline a plan to stop the famine that can originate this crisis caused, according to the UN, by biofuels or speculation. The leaders of the United Nations met to outline a solution to the sharp increases in food prices, which have caused hunger and unrest around the world (7). Ban's meeting with the agencies was held at the headquarters of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Panic over limited rice supplies, which have been adjusted by restrictions set by Thailand, Vietnam and India, has sparked waves of purchases in several Asian countries.

It is of absolute urgency, according to the UN human rights expert, Jean Ziegler (8). The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Organization for the Right to Food described the increase in food prices as a "real tragedy" and called for additional funds to tackle hunger. He blamed the drama on biofuels, the "aberrant policies" of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and speculation. He did not hesitate to call the production of biofuels a "crime against humanity". Nor did he spare criticism of organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and accused its director, Pascal Lamy, of having a line of work, "totally contrary to the interests of the martyred peoples of hunger, because protectionist payments are what allow peasants to grow food. "

He also described the IMF as following "aberrant policies" to develop export crops to reduce foreign debt to the detriment of "subsistence farming", and called for the end of "colonial crops" (9).

Within the barrage of criticism, he considered positive the "change of position" of the director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Khan, who has invited governments "to give an absolute priority to food crops."

In the immediate term, he has asked the donors of the World Food Program to increase their donations because "in three months [FAO] has lost 40% of its purchasing power" due to the rise in prices. He recalled that 75 million people in the world "depend for their survival on receiving supplies from PAM."

He has offered data: According to the FAO, in the last year the price of cereals, especially wheat, has increased by 130%; that of rice 74%, that of soybeans 87% and that of corn 53%. For this reason, he advocated a "total and immediate moratorium" for at least five years in the production of biofuels. In the fight against climate change, he advocates promoting public transport and other sources of energy. "The right to life and food is the one that prevails," he said.

He also stressed that, "if in Europe a family dedicates 10% of its budget to food, in the developing world that proportion can reach 90%". The controversial analyst highlighted the tragic cases in Gaza and Darfur and warned that "millions of people could starve to death in the coming months" if measures are not taken. In a dark prediction, he affirmed that "the hunger riots that have already taken place in 37 countries are going to intensify, and the number of people affected by malnutrition is going to increase in the next five to six years."

En concreto, ha criticado a EEUU, que dedicó el año pasado un tercio de su cosecha de maíz a bioetanol, y a la UE, por su directiva según la cual en 2020 un 10% de su combustible debe venir de los biocarburantes, para lo cual, tendrá que importar productos agrícolas de África, “que ya está golpeada por el hambre”.

Sostuvo que, la especulación “es responsable del 30% de la explosión de los precios”, especialmente la Bolsa de Valores de Chicago, donde los fondos de productos básicos dominan el 40%. Finalmente, ha culpado a la política “aberrante” del FMI por desarrollar culturas de exportación para reducir la deuda externa en detrimento de agriculturas de subsistencia.

La ONU ha denunciado ya en varias ocasiones que el cultivo de plantas para producir biocombustibles hace que suban los precios de esos productos, algunos de los cuales son básicos para la alimentación. A ello se suma la especulación con esos productos en mercados internacionales. Todo ello, para desencadenar una crisis que Ziegler ha calificado de “auténtica tragedia”. Además de Moon, estuvieron presentes, entre otros, la directora del Programa Mundial de Alimentos, Josette Sheeran, el presidente del Banco Mundial, Robert Zoellick (10), el director de la Organización para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO), Jacques Diouf (11), y el presidente del Fondo Internacional para el Desarrollo de la Agricultura, Lennart Bäge.

En una rueda de prensa celebrada tras un encuentro con los directivos del Banco Mundial, Ban Ki-moon ha hecho un llamamiento urgente a la comunidad internacional para que done 2.500 millones de dólares, unos 1.600 millones de euros, para hacer frente a la crisis alimentaria. El objetivo es cubrir las necesidades de financiación inmediata del Fondo de Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación (FAO), de 1.700 millones de dólares, y del Programa Mundial de Alimentos (PAM), que requiere 775 millones de dólares. Sólo así se podrá evitar una catástrofe y afrontar la crisis, afirma el representante de la ONU.

– Reunion de la FAO en Roma

En Roma, entre el 3 al 5 de junio de 2008, bajo el auspicio del Fondo de la ONU para la Agricultura y la Alimentación –FAO-, se desarrolló la Cumbre sobre Seguridad Alimentaria Mundial y los Desafíos del Cambio Climático y la Bioenergía" como oportunidad histórica en hacer una práctica cotidiana la lucha contra el hambre y la pobreza en el mundo.

El Índice de Precios de los Alimentos de la FAO, que mide los precios del mercado de los cereales, los lácteos, la carne, el azúcar y los aceites, reflejó en marzo un alza del 57 frente al mismo mes del año pasado. El malestar por esas escaladas -que han afectado con mayor dureza a los más pobres del mundo- ha desatado protestas, huelgas y disturbios en países que incluyen a Camerún, Mozambique, Senegal, Haití, Bangladesh, Indonesia y Afganistán.

La FAO estima que para 2015 el hambre afectará a 100 millones de personas más, por lo tanto, los gobiernos deben asumir toda la responsabilidad por la actual crisis y tomar medidas radicales para resolverla.

Bajo el principio del "libre comercio" los alimentos son considerados ahora mercancías iguales a cualquier otra, sujetas al afán de lucro y a los juegos financieros. Las alzas actuales de los precios se deben principalmente a la especulación de grandes comerciantes e inversores, porque ahora la producción de alimentos compite con la de agrocombustibles, lo que empeora la crisis, igual que el cambio climático.

Además, los gobiernos han desmantelado las políticas agrarias que apoyaban la producción de alimentos y ahora en cambio apoyan a las compañías transnacionales que producen semillas, pesticidas, fertilizantes y alimentos, para que sigan fortaleciendo su control de la cadena alimentaria. El desarrollo de la agricultura industrial ha destruido el medio ambiente y sobreexplotado los suelos, y contribuye enormemente al calentamiento global (genera entre 17.4 y 32% de los gases de invernadero). Mientras tanto, muchas familias de agricultores han sido expulsadas de sus campos y empujadas a la pobreza. Con base en esa experiencia, los agricultores y pequeños productores de alimentos hoy rechazan las promesas de lo que llaman "Nueva Revolución Verde" y las semillas "milagrosas" como los OGM.

Los pequeños agricultores familiares y productores de alimentos reunidos en La Vía Campesina lamentan que se impida la participación de la sociedad civil en la reunión de alto nivel de la FAO, y advierten a los jefes de estado que es hora de que los gobiernos se concentren en la producción sostenible de alimentos en pequeña escala y en los mercados locales. Eso permitirá que los suelos se regeneren, así como ahorrar combustibles y reducir el calentamiento global. Además dará empleo a millones de agricultores, pescadores, pequeños ganaderos y todos los que están alimentando a la población del mundo.

Según datos de la FAO, en el último año el trigo se ha encarecido un 130%, el arroz un 74%, la soja un 87% y el maíz un 53%. En declaraciones a la prensa, el director general de la Organización de Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación (FAO), Jacques Diouf, dijo que la actual crisis de los precios de los alimentos no vino de la nada, llegó porque la gente no escuchó. Durante años pedimos más ayuda para los agricultores de los países pobres, pero fue prácticamente ignorado. No se hizo lo necesario para corregir el problema del hambre, de la pobreza y ahora las consecuencias están en un nivel social y político, la gente está saliendo a las calles, apuntó el titular de la FAO. (Dar de comer a los 862 millones de personas que pasan hambre en el mundo costará 30.000 millones de dólares al año). Así lo ha dicho el director general de la FAO, Jacques Diouf, en la apertura de la cumbre de seguridad alimentaria (12).

La FAO estima que 862 millones de personas padecen hambre en el mundo, de las cuales 830 millones están en las naciones en vía de desarrollo. Estima además, que los Países de Bajos Ingresos con Déficit de Alimentación (PBIDA) pagaron en el 2007 por alimentos importados un 25 por ciento más que el año anterior, esto es una cifra superior a los 110 mil millones de dólares.

Jacques Diouf ha afirmado que la seguridad alimentaria es un problema de "naturaleza política". Ha insistido en que hace falta "tomar rápidamente las decisiones valientes que sean necesarias" para no poner a la población mundial "en una situación peligrosa". "El tiempo de los discursos se ha acabado ya, es el momento de la acción", ha subrayado el director general de la FAO. Si no se actúa, el impacto "del cambio climático y la especulación sobre los mercados pondrá al mundo en una situación peligrosa".

El responsable del organismo ha criticado hechos como que se cree un mercado de emisiones de carbono de 64.000 millones de dólares en países desarrollados y que no se pueda obtener financiación para evitar la deforestación en los países en desarrollo; ha destacado que la cumbre es "una oportunidad para revisar las políticas", que deben tanto "responder inmediatamente a los altos precios" como "aumentar la seguridad alimentaria mundial a largo plazo".

Mientras en México se registraron varias manifestaciones en protesta por el incremento en el precio de la tortilla, los italianos declararon a mediados de la semana una huelga sin pastas, mientras en Alemania se vio correr más de una lágrima en decenas de personas a la hora de beber una inalcanzable jarra de cerveza.

Los pronósticos para el presente, no son nada halagüeños, ya que los expertos calculan una existencia de 420 millones de toneladas, la más baja desde 1983, por lo que bien podrá pensarse ya en un incremento del hambre para el llamado Tercer Mundo.

A esta situación se suma este año la profundización de la política norteamericana de los biocombustibles a partir de cultivos como el maíz. (Hoy en Estados Unidos, se destina el 30 por ciento de la producción del maíz a biocombustibles), dijo recientemente Frank Messias, profesor y economistas de la Universidad de Columbia. Subrayó que si se aumenta el precio del maíz, automáticamente también sube el costo de los alimentos de todos aquellos animales que el hombre consume y cuya dieta incluye los granos que contienen maíz. De todos modos, vaticinó que próximamente el mundo verá el reemplazo del maíz u otros cultivos como soja o caña de azúcar para la elaboración de estos combustibles.

El secretario general de Naciones Unidas, Ban Ki Moon, por su parte, ha hecho un llamamiento para aumentar en un 50% la producción de alimentos hasta 2030 para frenar el hambre del mundo. Entre las medidas que ha recetado Moon para alcanzar esos objetivos ha destacado "el aumento de la asistencia a través de la ayuda en comida, vales o dinero" y "el ajuste del comercio y de las políticas de fiscalidad para minimizar las restricciones y las tarifas a la importación".

Por ese motivo, ha rechazado las "limitaciones impuestas a la exportación" por algunos países que pueden "distorsionar los mercados y subir los precios". Moon ha solicitado "el levantamiento de esas restricciones a la exportación" a todas las naciones que la han impuesto.

También se refiere a la carestía de alimentos, otra de las causas, junto con la alta demanda, la especulación y el proteccionismo, del alza de precios. La población mundial aumenta y el desarrollo de países como India o China incrementa el número de personas con capacidad de consumir mucho.

También ha exigido pasar de las palabras a la acción y ha pedido un consenso mundial para la utilización de los biocombustibles (13).

Sin embargo, la producción agrícola global está en niveles bajos. Por ello, Ban Ki-Moon ha destacado la necesidad de aumentar la producción de alimentos un 50% de aquí al año 2030, algo que, según calcula, costará entre 15 mil y 20 mil millones de dólares anuales a los países en desarrollo y donantes.

El Plan

Con motivo de la Cumbre organizada por la FAO sobre Seguridad Alimentaria (14), el presidente del Banco Mundial, Robert Zoellick, ha propuesto en un artículo del Financial Times, un plan de acción con diez puntos básicos para atajar la crisis.

Para Zoellick, esta tarea no es fácil, dado que el nexo de unión entre los altos costes de la energía y el de los alimentos se verá reforzado por el cambio climático. A su juicio, esta relación ha llevado al aumento de la producción de biocombustibles y al incremento en el coste del transporte de la agricultura, así como a la disminución de las reservas de los alimentos. Ésta es su propuesta:

Se debería acordar financiar totalmente las necesidades de emergencia del Programa Mundial de Alimentos, apoyar la compra de alimentos en la zona y garantizar la libre circulación de la ayuda humanitaria.

Apoyo de redes de seguridad para poder distribuir alimentos en las escuelas, ofrecer alimentos a cambio de trabajo, de modo que se pueda acceder rápidamente a aquellos en situación más severa.

Trabajar con la sociedad civil y los donantes bilaterales con ayuda de la FAO, del Fondo de Desarrollo Agrícola y los bancos regionales de desarrollo.

Impulsar la agricultura, aumentando la oferta y el gasto en investigación.

Invertir en la Agroindustria para que pueda actuar el sector privado en toda la cadena de producción.

Desarrollar instrumentos innovadores para la gestión de los riesgos y los seguros de cosechas para los pequeños agricultores.

Sugiere la eliminación de las ayudas a los biocarburantes

Aboga por que se supriman los subsidios agrícolas

Ayuda de EEUU y de Europa para suavizar las subvenciones y los aranceles sobre biocarburantes derivados del maíz cuando los precios son altos. El corte en los aranceles de importación de etanol en los EEUU y en los mercados de la UE fomentará la producción de caña de azúcar, así los biocarburantes no competirán con la producción de alimentos.

Eliminar la prohibición de las exportaciones que ha dado lugar a aún más altos precios mundiales. Recientemente La India ha relajado sus restricciones, pero 28 países han impuesto estos controles.

Se deben eliminar las distorsiones de los subsidios agrícolas y arancelarios. Nunca ha sido más necesario la necesidad de normas acordadas multilateralemente, debemos conseguir un comercio mundial de alimentos más flexible, eficiente y equitativo.

Debería existir una mayor acción colectiva para contrarrestar los riesgos mundiales. Los problemas de interconexión entre la energía, el agua y los alimentos serán los conductores de la economía y la seguridad mundial.

Además, Zoellick ha recordado que el Banco Mundial ha aprobado "por la vía rápida" una ayuda de 1.200 millones de dólares para hacer frente a la necesidades inmediatas derivadas de la crisis, incluyendo 200 millones para subvenciones a países especialmente vulnerables (15).

El FMI y el Banco Mundial alertaron acerca que el alza en los precios de los alimentos, como el trigo y el arroz, pueden llevar a 100 millones de personas a la pobreza y generar inestabilidad política, como ocurrió recientemente con protestas en Haití y en algunos países de Africa y Asia.


Los efectos de la crisis alimentaria en ambos extremos del planeta son difícilmente comparables. En el Norte, tan sólo destinamos entre uno 10 y un 20% de la renta a la compra de alimentos, mientras que en el Sur esta cifra se eleva al 50-60% y puede llegar incluso hasta el 80%. Pero esto no quita la importancia de señalar también el impacto de esta subida de los precios entre las poblaciones de aquí, mientras que los beneficios de las multinacionales siguen aumentando y los gobiernos defienden una mayor liberalización económica.

En diez países de Africa y Asia, este problema ya ha ocasionado disturbios. En Pakistán y Tailandia, el ejército se encarga de evitar robos y saqueos en los campos de cereales y los almacenes (16).

Durante los años 2007 y 2008, los países más pobres del mundo tuvieron que pagar en torno a un 65% más por sus importaciones de cereales, y en algunos países africanos el incremento llegó a alcanzar un 74%, según los cálculos de la FAO. «Los países pobres del mundo gastarán unos 38 700 millones de dólares en importación de cereales este año, el doble de la cantidad que pagaron hace dos años por las mismas cantidades y un 57 % de aumento en relación con 2007.» Cita del senador estadounidense Byron Dorgan en la FAO (17).

Actualmente, todos los bancos internacionales importantes (el FMI, el Banco Mundial, el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, el Banco de Desarrollo Asiático, etc.), todos los periódicos y los medios de comunicación financieros importantes se han visto obligados a reconocer que está teniendo lugar una crisis alimentaria importante, que cientos de millones de personas están abocados al hambre, la desnutrición y a la muerte por inanición. Se han realizado llamadas a conferencias mundiales, se han declarado emergencias nacionales a raíz de los desórdenes provocados por millones de personas en casi cincuenta países que han amenazado con desbancar sus regímenes políticos y han aumentado las tensiones sociales incluso en los países más dinámicos y con mayor crecimiento, como China o la India. Incluso en los países imperialistas de América del Norte y Europa, la combinación de la escalada en los precios de los alimentos y el estancamiento de los salarios, las expulsiones de sus hogares y los pagos de las deudas amenazan a los regímenes en ejercicio y aumentan las presiones sobre todos los gobiernos para tomar acciones urgentes.

El orden mundial, desigual e injusto que condena a tantos seres a la pobreza y el hambre, también provoca una destrucción colosal de los recursos naturales y la contaminación del ambiente, desatando procesos de degradación ambiental mundial como el cambio climático.

Si bien la resultante en las condiciones actuales son altas ganancias para las empresas que operan en toda la cadena de producción y comercialización de materias primas, se plantean dos tipos de alerta sobre el devenir de la economía capitalista. Por un lado los “levantamientos del hambre” en más de 20 países representan una amenaza desde los “bordes” para la estabilidad del capitalismo mundial. Por el otro, y como planteamos al principio, los precios de las materias primas son un factor importante en la determinación de la tasa de ganancia de los sectores capitalistas no ligados directamente a su producción.

El problema no es que falten alimentos en el mundo (el pasado año hubo un récord mundial de cosechas de cereales), sino que estos están en el lugar inadecuado y a un precio que los más pobres no se pueden permitir. Para ellos, es necesaria una nueva revolución que no dé el pescado a los pobres, sino que les enseñe a pescar: menos alimentos traídos del exterior y mayor desarrollo de la agricultura en los propios países en desarrollo.

La crisis alimentaria actual, tienen mucho que ver con la especulación del capital financiero internacional y el monopolio del mercado de combustibles. Ahora más que nunca, con más urgencia que nunca, los seres humanos y el planeta mismo reclaman cambios radicales y revolucionarios.

Dra. Renee Isabel Mengo – Docente adjunta e investigadora en la Cátedra Historia Social Contemporánea – Escuela Ciencias de la Información. Universidad Nacional de Córdoba-Argentina


(1) Sánchez, Roberto. La otra cara de la crisis alimentaria mundial…)

(2) ¿Cómo nos afecta la crisis alimentaria mundial? 21/06/2008

(3) Petras, James. Las raíces estructurales del hambre, las crisis alimentarias y los desórdenes. Traducido para Rebelión por Mar Rodríguez

(4) Bach, Paula. ¿“Crisis alimentaria” o “hambre” de ganancias? 8 de agosto de 2008.

La ONU alerta de que las reservas de alimentos están en el nivel más bajo de los últimos 30 años…)

(6) Serie de informes sobre el hambre en el mundo 2007. El hambre y la salud

(7) La ONU pide ayuda urgente para combatir el hambre mundial
Plan de la ONU para enfrentar crisis alimentaria

(8) Ziegler, Jean. Biocombustibles y especulación causan alza en alimentos: ONU

(9) Carrizo, Rodrigo. La ONU culpa de la crisis alimentaria a la "política aberrante" del FMI.…)

(10) El Banco Mundial destina 1.200 millones de dólares a paliar la crisis alimentaria…)

(11) Diouf: el mundo debe aprovechar la oportunidad para impulsar la agricultura

(12) Los líderes mundiales buscan una solución a la crisis alimentaria…)

(13) Declaración de la conferencia de alto nivel sobre la seguridad alimentaria mundial: los desafíos del cambio climático y la bioenergia.

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(15) Banco Mundial implementa financiamiento rápido para países más afectados por crisis de Alimentos.


(17) Financial Times, 21 de abril de 2008 p.19.


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