Posted by: r.m. | April 3, 2009

G20, the poor, the land

So, the leaders of the powerful nations have met at this G20 summit. People protested – and were attacked and sequestered by police. One person died – of natural causes.

What does that summit mean to majority of us, the majority of the world’s people? To the poor? The farmers? The land?

Joop de Koeijer, member of the coordinating committee of the European Coordination Via Campesina at the climate panel during the Put People First mobilisation on the 28th of March in London at the occasion of the G20 meeting, said:

I am an arable farmer from the southwest of the Netherlands, living in a delta below sealevel, and my region was struck by a terrible flood some years before I was born, killing over 2000 people.

In Nyéléni, Mali an international forum on food sovereignty took place in 2007. There, we saw the harshness of farming conditions too: the heat, the shortage of water and so on.

The fear for people living in deltas of more flooding and the difficulties for people living in areas hit by drought are facts that society needs to fight.

We know how to solve the climate problem, but we first need to repair some of the wrong decisions taken in the recent past. A neoliberal past that many of you declare dead today. Deregulation in agriculture meant that countries had to open their markets for cheap subisdised imports of basic food: traditional corn in Mexico, local rice in the Philippines and to a lesser extent plant protein production in Europe were the victims amongst others.

At the same time freemarketeers such as the Worldbank and the agroindustry pushed hand in hand for more export-oriented production: “The opportunities for agriculure are on the worldmarket!” But everyone in agriculture knows that when we all do the same overproduction, low prices are the inevitable result. So here is the picture of agriculture at the end of the neoliberal era: hundreds of millions of  tonnes of food dragged from continent to continent, farmers driven off their land or having to use more (energy-)intensive production methods than before as opposed to more agricultural practices adapted to local conditions. The solution lies in Food sovereignty: the right of peoples to define their own farm policies, to protect themselves against cheap imports without harming the development of agriculture elsewhere. And that will give us the space to do what we are supposed and want to do: produce good and healthy food for people first instead of the agroindustry first.

Food. Food prices. Who plants the crops. Who controls the crop’s distribution. Who sells the crops.  All critical questions.

Where are we now? Are we over the 2007/2008 food crisis? Not in the least.

Developing nations face malnutrition threat: Poor harvests, drought and rising food prices could have serious health implications for people living in developing countries – so reads the headline of an article in today’s Guardian

It isn’t only the poor and the farmers and the safety of the world’s agriculture that was ignored in the G20 summit. The environment, the larger environment, as well, was left out of the discussion.  So argues Monbiot.

George Monbiot writes, in his typically sharp style:

Here is the text of the G20 communique, in compressed form.

“We, the Leaders of the Group of Twenty, will use every cent we don’t possess to rescue corporate capitalism from its contradictions and set the world economy back onto the path of unsustainable growth. We have already spent trillions of dollars of your money on bailing out the banks, so that they can be returned to their proper functions of fleecing the poor and wrecking the Earth’s living systems. Now we’re going to spend another $1.1 trillion. As an exemplary punishment for their long record of promoting crises, we will give the IMF and the World Bank even more of your money. These actions constitute the greatest mobilisation of resources to support global financial flows in modern times.

Oh – and we nearly forgot. We must do something about the environment. We don’t have any definite plans as yet, but we’ll think of something in due course.”

The G20’s strategy for solving the financial and economic crisis, in other words, is detailed, innovative, fully costed and of vast scale and ambition. Its plans for solving the environmental crisis are brief, vague and uncosted. ….

This suggests to me that our leaders have learnt nothing from the financial crisis. It was caused by allowing powerful agents (the banks) to exploit a common resource (the global economy) without proper control or regulation. Governments deployed a form of magical thinking: that the boom would go on forever, that a bunch of predatory psychopaths would regulate themselves, that profits, dividends and share prices could grow indefinitely even though they bore no relation to actual value.

They treat the environmental crisis the same way. Climate breakdown, peak oil and resource depletion will all dwarf the current financial crisis, in both financial and humanitarian terms. But, just as they did with the banks, the G20 leaders appear to have decided to deal with these problems only when they have to – in other words, when it’s too late. They persuade themselves that getting the economy back to where it was – infinite growth on a finite planet – can somehow be reconciled with the pledge “to address the threat of irreversible climate change”.




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