Occupy the Food System! by Eric Holt Gimenez

In the past few weeks, the U.S. Food Movement has made its presence felt in Occupy Wall Street. Voices from food justice organizations across the country are connecting the dots between hunger, diet-related diseases and the unchecked power of Wall Street investors and corporations (See Tom Philppot’s excellent article in Mother Jones).

This is very fertile ground.

On one hand, the Food Movement’s practical alternatives to industrial food are rooted at the base of our economic system. Its activities are key to building the alternative, localized economies being called for by Occupy Wall Street. On the other hand, Occupy provides a space for the Food Movement to politicize its collective agenda and scale-up community-based solutions by changing the rules that govern local economies.

Of course, in the U.S., what we refer to as the “food movement” is really more of a loose “food network” of non-profit organizations and community groups (CSAs, food policy councils, community gardens, etc) with a sprinkling of bona-fide family farmer organizations and food worker organizations. There’s nothing wrong with this. The network has blossomed over the past decade, creating an amazing social infrastructure that is actively using the food system to make us healthier and happier. In the Food Movement we re-learn and re-invent ways of farming, cooking and eating. In doing so, we put back in the social, economic and cultural values robbed by the industrial food system.

But if the community gardens, CSAs, farm-to-school programs and sustainable family farms in the Food Movement are so great why isn’t everyone doing it?

The simple answer is, because the rules and institutions governing our food system — Wall Street, the U.S. Farm Bill, the World Trade Organization and the USDA — all favor the global monopolies controlling the world’s seeds, food processing, distribution and retail. This should come as no surprise, the “revolving door” between government and corporate food monopolies is alive and well, and goes back decades. But it means it’s unlikely that the Food Movement’s alternatives will ever become the norm rather than the alternative fringe — unless the Food Movement can change the rules and institutions controlling our food.

To do that, the Food Movement needs politicizing.

Why? Hasn’t it worked to improve school food, legalize urban chickens and reform the farm bill? Indeed, it has made important strides in impacting food policy. But many community food organizations have become dependent on the diminishing funding streams from the very foundations that helped them get off the ground. The nation’s economic downturn has further affected community organizations, forcing them to tighten belts, cut staff, eliminate programs and compete for scarce resources at a time when communities need them more than ever. This makes them vulnerable to cooptation.

This is not to say that the organizations in the Food Movement don’t deserve financial support. They do, and the existence of so many community food organizations is testament to positive cooperation with funders. But a broad-based movement is a different animal than an isolated community organization. For a movement, following a funding stream is the tail wagging the dog. Movements are about creating political will for the benefit of all. They converge, unifying and amplifying popular voices around a shared vision. Politically, movements cannot afford to be disarmed by money, silenced or divided.

A movement to “occupy the food system” will need to put healthy food in our communities and community voices in places of power.

A new, collective decision-making process is being fleshed out at Occupy sites across the country, and in the vibrant conversations on blogs, list servs and social media. It’s about more than formulating “demands.” As Naomi Klein commented in a recent visit to Food First, “Demands are about negotiation and compromise; this movement is articulating a broader vision.” As the food movement moves into the new political spaces being opened up by Occupy Wall Street, a bold vision of food sovereignty is being crafted — one in which food decisions, food resources and the food dollar are not controlled by Wall Street or by the food monopolies, but by local communities.

This political “convergence in diversity” has the potential to takes us from the strategies for survival to strategies for transformation.

Co-authored by Tanya Kerssen.

Food ministry says it is not averse to export of wheat or rice

NEW DELHI: Taking a U-turn, Food Minister K V Thomas today said he was not opposed to allowing exports of foodgrains and a decision on the issue will be taken by a panel of ministers at the earliest.

The government in early 2007 had banned shipment of wheat and later in April, 2008 restricted exports of non- basmati rice.

“We are not averse to export of foodgrains. I do not mind export of some quantity of wheat and rice as there is a bumper production. There are suggestions from state governments and other ministries for exports of 2 million tonnes of wheat and 1 million tonnes of rice,” Thomas told reporters, here.

An Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on food, headed by Finance Minster Pranab Mukherjee , will take a decision at on allowing export of wheat and rice at the earliest, he said.

The minister had said several times that exports could not take place in view of the huge demand of foodgrains under the proposed National Food Security Act.

The government is now facing the problem of plenty with granaries overflowing in its godowns. As on June 1, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has an all-time-high stock of 65.4 million tonnes of wheat and rice.

Sources said that the Food Ministry, which fears shortage of space in view of bumper procurement, has already send a proposal on this issue to the Commerce Ministry.

Asked whether the government will permit export of grains stored in FCI or from the private trade, Thomas said, “Details are being worked out. The final call will be taken by the EGoM”.

He, however, said that the export should not lead rise in domestic retail price and benefit should reach to farmers.

Wheat procurement by the FCI has touched the record 28 million tonnes in the ongoing 2011-12 rabi marketing season (April-June).

Industrialising India’s Food Flows: An analysis of the food waste argument

23rd May, 2011, Rahul Goswami

From the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five Year plan onwards, central government ministries have been telling us that post-harvest losses in India are high, particularly for fruits and vegetables. The amount of waste often quoted is up to 40% for vegetables and fruits, and has been held up as the most compelling reason to permit a flood of investment in the new sector of agricultural logistics, to allow the creation of huge food processing zones, and to link all these to retail food structures in urban markets. The urban orientation of such an approach ignores the integrated and organic farming approach, as it does the evidence that sophistication in food processing has not in the West prevented food loss or waste.

Fighting hunger together

Express News Service ,
The New Indian Express

Oxfam, an Indian organization working towards eradicating poverty and building a sustainable world, launched the global Grow campaign on June 1 at Hari Hara Kala Bhavan.

To kick start the campaign, the organisation hosted a photo exhibition on food and hunger, two ethnic food stalls, one handloom stall and topped off the evening with a cultural performance.

Shaik Anwar, regional manager, Oxfam India, said, “Grow is Oxfam’s campaign for a better way to grow, share and live together. It is a campaign for billions of us who eat food and over a billion men and women who grow it, to share solutions for a more hopeful future in which everyone always has enough to eat. India is a strategic country for this campaign — we are launching this campaign simultaneously in Hyderabad and Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Guwahati in India.”

One billion hungry

Nearly one billion people in the world face hunger every day. One in four of the world’s billion hungry people live in India. The rise in food prices in 2011 has only exacerbated the problem. Through the Grow campaign, Oxfam wants to convey a simple message — come together to live better.

K Sajaya, an activist and documentary filmmaker from the Caring Citizens’ Collective in attendance, opined, “It makes me sad to see that the very people who provide food to the society are the ones who are going hungry. It is time to demolish the prevailing notion that hunger is individual and realise that hunger is societal. It is time that the government and the civil society thrive to bring a holistic and sustainable solution to the millions of providers (farmers) to have enough to eat.”

The message

To build a brighter future Grow suggests that one should learn to ‘share better’ — which means managing markets to prevent food crises, stopping corporate abuses of power, reforming flawed polices and empowering people to respond to shocks and natural disasters.

Also suggested via the campaign was the notion that one should ‘live better’ in order to build better ways to do business, making an ecological future rich in shared resources, safe from the risk of a changing climate possible. The third and final message of Grow was that one should ‘grow better’ — in other words, one must invest in new agriculture, so that over a billion small-scale food producers around the planet, many of them women, are no longer starved of the land and resources they need.

Picture this

The photo exhibition contained 15 photos depicting a day in the average rural farmer’s life. Reminiscent of propaganda posters, on either side of the photographs were messages urging people to join the campaign, to come together and held eradicate hunger. Also accompanying the photos were small written messages that threw light on the many starving farmers around the world.

Swadeshi food

Thousands of years ago, millet was the primary staple food. The Grow campaign believes that cultivating more millet can be step towards alleviating the country’s food problem. The two ethnic food stalls at the event exhibited a variety of millets — like proso, foxtail, pearl, finger, sorghum — that can not only be used for food by also as medicine.

Food crisis? We’ve enough on our plates

Tim Lang
Yes, food prices are rising but more competition is not the answer — it’s time to stop over-consumption.
Slowly, surely, a new mixture of consensus and fault lines is emerging about world food. On the one hand, there is agreement we are entering a new era in which basic agricultural commodity prices are rising after decades of falling. This will hit the poorest hardest, as an Oxfam report this week on food justice rightly points out. But there is not yet sufficient agreement or political leverage to begin the big, necessary changes. And there’s disagreement on what the problem really is.

Is another round of technical intensification needed to raise productivity? That’s what the U.K. government’s Foresight report argued this January, calling for the oxymoronic “sustainable intensification.” Or is it best addressed by a more equitable distribution of wealth? This is what Oxfam and others argue, saying there is enough food to go round if properly shared. Much hangs on which perspective is used to frame food policy.

To the west, the great success of the food story in the second half of the 20th century was lower prices. This allowed spending to diversify and fuelled the consumer boom. Proportionately less outlay on food meant more for clothes, homes, holidays and fun. This rebalancing came at a cost to the developing countries dependent on food exports. Their purchasing power declined while ours went up. It also came with dire environmental costs: biodiversity loss, pollution, soil damage and water stress. These indicators suggested that the environment too was being squeezed.

Under to over-consumption

From the 1960s, with growing evidence and conviction, environmentalists have warned that human reliance on the eco-sphere might be threatened. Public health analysts spotted the transition from problems of under-consumption to those of over- and mal-consumption. Mass hunger sits alongside mass obesity. This distortion is no longer one where the rich world is fat, and the developing world is thin; even sub-Saharan Africa now has an obesity problem.

The evidence of this mismatch between policy and reality has been growing for decades. It ought to be centre-stage on every government’s food policy agenda. The tragedy is this isn’t the case. For a moment, when in 2006-08 world food prices rose, even rich countries looked worried. Fresh from the banking crisis, no one wanted food destabilisation too. An emergency world conference was scheduled. But even before it was held, prices began to drop. Sighs of relief in the west.

Three years on, prices are way above 2008 levels, and food inflation is endemic. Oxfam predicts food prices will double by 2030. That would take the average British shopping basket to about 20 per cent of disposable income. But to the poorest of the world, it would mean almost all income going on food. Even the World Bank and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are troubled.

In South Africa

What can be done? In 2008, many governments acted unilaterally; chaos ensued. Today, the South African government has emulated Tony Blair’s action in 1999 when concerned about food prices: turn to Walmart. Aware of the vice-like grip Britain’s dwindling number of supermarket giants had over 60 million British mouths, Blair signalled that the U.K. would welcome the world’s biggest food retailer to introduce price competition. Competition and U.S. capital were the recipe to reduce food prices. Walmart purchased Asda.

But this model is part of the problem. The last thing South Africa needs is a retail giant that threatens the existence of thousands of small shopkeepers. Allowing it into Africa may signal modernity, but it is ecological and social irresponsibility.

The prospect of food prices doubling ought to be a political wake-up call. But politicians don’t seem to be listening yet. They will, though.

To be fair, the challenge they face cuts across conventional political boundaries. An entire 20th-century approach to food modernity is under threat. Consumer expectations, not least that we can eat whatever we like whenever we like, are at stake. The 20th century created the fiction that ever more food can be produced by tapping oil, throwing fertiliser at seeds, spraying endless water and treating the soil as blotting paper, a neutral medium. We now know how fragile that mix is, and how fragile the Earth’s crust and biology are too.

In the west, we are over-consuming and wasting food. A whole change of direction is required, not just in the food chain but in food culture. ( Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University London.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011.

State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet

State of the World 2011 objectively states the hunger, water and environmental problems facing Africa and the rest of the world, and illuminates a multitude of encouraging answers that are already saving lives and livelihoods. It is an eloquent, painstakingly researched sound of warning and expression of hope.”

–Rick Docksai, The Futurist, May-June 2011

The 2011 edition of our flagship report is a compelling look at the global food crisis, with particular emphasis on global innovations that can help solve a worldwide problem. State of the World 2011 not only introduces us to the latest agro-ecological innovations and their global applicability but also gives broader insights into issues including poverty, international politics, and even gender equity.

Written in clear, concise language, with easy-to-read charts and tables, State of the World 2011, produced with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provides a practical vision of the innovations that will allow billions of people to feed themselves, while restoring rural economies, creating livelihoods, and sustaining the natural resource base on which agriculture depends.

Preview State of the World 2011:


The New Geopolitics of Food


In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family’s dinner table.

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.

Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.

Until recently, sudden price surges just didn’t matter as much, as they were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe. But now both the causes and consequences are ominously different.

How Food Explains the World
By Joshua E. Keating

Street Eats

An FP Slide Show

In many ways, this is a resumption of the 2007-2008 food crisis, which subsided not because the world somehow came together to solve its grain crunch once and for all, but because the Great Recession tempered growth in demand even as favorable weather helped farmers produce the largest grain harvest on record. Historically, price spikes tended to be almost exclusively driven by unusual weather — a monsoon failure in India, a drought in the former Soviet Union, a heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. Such events were always disruptive, but thankfully infrequent. Unfortunately, today’s price hikes are driven by trends that are both elevating demand and making it more difficult to increase production: among them, a rapidly expanding population, crop-withering temperature increases, and irrigation wells running dry. Each night, there are 219,000 additional people to feed at the global dinner table.

More alarming still, the world is losing its ability to soften the effect of shortages. In response to previous price surges, the United States, the world’s largest grain producer, was effectively able to steer the world away from potential catastrophe. From the mid-20th century until 1995, the United States had either grain surpluses or idle cropland that could be planted to rescue countries in trouble. When the Indian monsoon failed in 1965, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration shipped one-fifth of the U.S. wheat crop to India, successfully staving off famine. We can’t do that anymore; the safety cushion is gone.

That’s why the food crisis of 2011 is for real, and why it may bring with it yet more bread riots cum political revolutions. What if the upheavals that greeted dictators Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a country that imports 90 percent of its grain) are not the end of the story, but the beginning of it? Get ready, farmers and foreign ministers alike, for a new era in which world food scarcity increasingly shapes global politics.

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