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The Globalization of Agribusiness and Developing World Food Systems

The issue of the global concentration of agribusiness is crucial to the future of the food systems of developing (and poor, non-developing) countries. These countries have been a target of corporate investments from the outset of the industrial food system. This process has been uneven — at different times corporate investment has focused on one or another part of the food system. Today, this uneven and often uncoordinated foray of metropolitan corporate capital is still subjugating the agriculture and domestic food markets of many developing countries, particularly smaller, peripheral ones undergoing rapid urbanization, to the needs of global agribusiness. For some of the larger developing countries, however, national capitalists are the principal force behind the emerging urban food system. In addition, the state has been playing a key role in the consolidation of the urban food system in certain emerging economies.… | more…

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Indigenous Resistance in the Americas and the Legacy of Mariátegui

Marc Becker, Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 356 pages, $22.95, paperback.

Following the 2005 election of the first Indigenous president of any country in the Americas—Evo Morales in Bolivia—I commented in MRzine on the fact that many were taken by surprise by this seemingly sudden occurrence out of nowhere, but only because they had not been paying attention to the development of the international Indigenous movement over the past three decades.… | more…

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Unions Must Move Left, They Have No Alternative

Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin, Solidarity Divided (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 324 pages, $17.95, paper.

Through the 1980s I was a union organizer and activist in our Bay Area labor anti-apartheid committee. As we picketed ships carrying South African cargo, and recruited city workers to support the African National Congress (then called a terrorist organization by both the United States and South Africa), I looked at South African unions with great admiration.… | more…

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July-August 2009 (Volume 61, Number 3)

» Notes from the Editors

A new book by economist Frank Ackerman, Can We Afford the Future?: The Economics of a Warming World (Zed, 2009), presents an important and startling thesis: “As the climate science debate is reaching closure, the climate economics debate is heating up. The controversial issue now is the fear that overly ambitious climate initiatives could hurt the economy”(6). With climate-change skeptics losing influence, mainstream economists—always the ultimate ideological defenders of the capitalist system—are stepping into the breach to ensure inaction on global warming. Armed with cost-benefit analyses, they report that saving the planet for its inhabitants may be all very well and good… but it is simply too expensive for the capitalist economy to afford.… | more…

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An Overview of the Food and Agriculture Crisis

“Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?,” asks the title of an article by Lester Brown in Scientific American (May 2009). Just a few years ago, such a question would have seemed almost laughable. Few will be surprised by it today.

In 2008 people woke up to a tsunami of hunger sweeping the world. Although the prospect of rising hunger has loomed on the horizon for years, the present crisis seemed to come out of the blue without warning. Food riots spread through many countries in the global South as people tried to obtain a portion of what appeared to be a rapidly shrinking supply of food, and many governments were destabilized.… | more…

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Food Wars

In 2006–08, food shortages became a global reality, with the prices of commodities spiraling beyond the reach of vast numbers of people. International agencies were caught flatfooted, with the World Food Program warning that its rapidly diminishing food stocks might not be able to deal with the emergency.… | more…

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The World Food Crisis in Historical Perspective

The “world food crisis” of 2007–08 was the tip of an iceberg. Hunger and food crises are endemic to the modern world, and the eruption of a rapid increase in food prices provided a fresh window on this cultural fact. Much like Susan George’s well-known observation that famines represent the final stage in an extended process of deepening vulnerability and fracturing of social reproduction mechanisms, this food “crisis” represents the magnification of a long-term crisis of social reproduction stemming from colonialism, and was triggered by neoliberal capitalist development.… | more…

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s Vanishing Peasantries and the Specter of a Global Food Crisis

Likened to a sudden tsunami, reports of declining staple food availability and the possibility of a world food crisis first appeared in the international press in late 2007.1 Sub-Saharan Africa, with its deepening need for disaster food relief in arid and war-torn areas, was most vulnerable. The economic viability of western donors’ food aid to the continent was increasingly being stretched. As food riots flared in various Asian and Latin American cities, urban food riots also began surfacing in Africa, alongside the perennial threat of rural famine.… | more…

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Origins of the Food Crisis in India and Developing Countries

India has had a growing problem with food output and availability for the mass of the population since the inception of neoliberal economic reforms in 1991. A deep agricultural depression and rising unemployment rates resulting from “reform” policies have made the problem especially acute over the past decade. There has been a sharp decline in per capita grain output as well as grain consumption in the economy as a whole. Income has been shifting away from the majority towards the wealthy minority and a substantial segment of the population is being forced to eat less food and wear older clothing than before. This is exacerbated by the current global depression, which is further constraining mass consumption because of rising unemployment.… | more…

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Free Trade in Agriculture: A Bad Idea Whose Time Is Done

The push for “free trade” in agriculture first took hold in the 1980s. It was part of a package of policies and investments that moved food and agriculture systems away from government control (too often centralized and unresponsive) toward private ownership. Ironically, private ownership has led to an even more centralized and tightly controlled food system. Local communities have been left more disempowered than they were before, and, increasingly, developing country national governments have found themselves disempowered, too. This essay considers what advocates of free trade promised developing countries, what actually happened, and what some alternatives might look like.… | more…

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Reducing Energy Inputs in the Agricultural Production System

Oil, natural gas, coal, and other mined fuels provide the United States with nearly all of its energy needs at a cost $700 billion per year.1 Since more than 90 percent of its oil deposits have been depleted, the United States now imports over 70 percent of its oil at an annual cost of $400 billion.2 United States agriculture is driven almost entirely by these non-renewable energy sources. Each person in the country on a per capita consumption basis requires approximately 2,000 liters per year in oil equivalents to supply his/her total food, which accounts for about 19 percent of the total national energy use. Farming — that portion of the agricultural/food system in which food is produced — requires about 7 percent and food processing and packaging consume an additional 7 percent, while transportation and preparation use 5 percent of total energy in the United States.… | more…

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