Qu: Are the “food riots” a factor in world instability?
JZ: Yes because they are not conjunctural but structural. They are not directly linked to climate phenomena (drought in Australia) or economic development (wealthy classes changing dietary habits in India and China). When the price of rice increases 52 per cent in two months, cereals 84 percent in 4 months, we push 2 billion people below the poverty line.
Qu: What are the possible consequences?
JZ: We are seeing the warning signs today, with rice fields being guarded by the army in Thailand, clashes over bread in Egypt, deaths in Haiti. We are headed for a very long period of riots, conflict, waves of controllable regional destabilization, strongly marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations. With the current round of price increases, a child under the age of 10 dies every 5 seconds, 854 million people are seriously under-nourished! This is slaughter in the making. Households devote 10-20 percent of their budget to food in the West, and 60 to 90 percent in the poorest countries: it is a question of survival.
Qu: Where does the responsibility lie for this situation?
JZ: Mostly with the indifference of the masters of the world, rich or emergent developing nations. Was public opinion offended by famine in northern India two years ago, or among the population of Darfur? When the U.S. launches a biofuels policy backed by $6 billion worth of subsidies which drains 138 million tons of corn from the food market, one lays down the bases of a crime against humanity for one’s own thirst for fuel. One can understand the Bush government’s wish to free itself from fossil fuel dependence but it is destabilising for the rest of the world. And when the European Union decides on a target of 10 percent biofuels by 2020, it shifts the burden onto small-scale African farmers.
Qu: Surely biofuels are not the only cause….
JZ: The poorest countries have to service their debts to the IMF. Despite some debt relief, 122 countries had accumulated debts of $2100 billion in 2007. The IMF’s structural adjustment plans still impose agricultural planting for export revenue to pay off interest on these debts to banks in the North. Add to this the agricultural subsidies to exports which erodes the local agricultural markets, and you get to an explosive situation….
UN-sponsored report by the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) out this week calls for a more holistic, less productivist approach to agriculture which is less dependent on fossil fuels.
In the meantime, Monsanto‘s share price has doubled in the past 12 months…