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May 10, 2009

’Food colonialism’ is increasing hunger in Africa

by Michael Davies-Venn

The European Union is coercing some West African governments into allowing European-based fishing companies to deplete West Africa’s fishing stocks in a new "food colonialism" that is now taking place between rich and poor countries around the world, according to British author George Monbiot.

"We have a particularly stark example of this in Europe, where since the 1960’s fishermen from the European Union have been going down to West Africa and plundering the fish stocks there, and this has disastrous impacts on the people of West African countries," Monbiot said at a recent engagement on world hunger at the University of Alberta in Canada.

When the Senegalese government banned European fishing boats in its territorial waters, French and Spanish fishing companies, in particular, resorted to new tricks by using Senegalese boats, hiring subcontractors and claiming national status.

"Now the European Union has told the government of Senegal and some of its neighbors that they must allow this to continue to happen," Monbiot stated. "In fact they must allow these people to register as if they were nationally-owned companies, if this economic partnership agreement with them is to go ahead and they have any economic benefits at all dealing with the European Union. ... So it’s straightforward food colonialism, except in this case it’s carried out not with gun boats at sea ports, it’s carried out by lawyers and checkbooks."

The EU has strict fishing policies, which punish individuals and companies by levying huge fines, limit the catch by member countries, and regulate fishing methods. But it would appear the EU has a different set of policies for West African governments.

According to Monbiot: "These governments are coming under an immense amount of pressure to continue, more or less, giving up their own fish stock and starving their own people, so that in Europe we don’t have to confront our fishing lobbies which are very powerful political lobbies, or run out of fish because we’ve so exploited our own stocks that they’re collapsing left, right and center. ... We’re snatching food out of the mouth of the poor in order not to deal with our own consumption."

Monbiot, who was participating in a series of events organized to highlight the plight of starvation around the world, also said certain Middle Eastern countries have been making arrangements with some African nations that would ensure food security for their nationals.

"The very rich oil states have been striking secret bilateral treaties with some African nations such as Sudan and Ethiopia where they’ve in effect leased very large areas of land, farms of a hundred thousand acres or more, over which they now have exclusive control, so that come what may, whether or not there’s famine in these countries, they would still be able to export food to their own countries," he said. "It’s another very brutal form of food colonialism."

A United Nations Global 500 Award recipient for outstanding environmental achievement, Monbiot suggested that claims of insufficient food in the world are wrong.

"A roughly similar number of people suffer from obesity as those from malnutrition," he said. "We produced more food about the same time that we saw a global food crunch of a kind bigger than any we’ve seen in 25 years hitting communities around the world."

France’s Lappe Moore, co-founder of Food First, also known as the Institute for Food Development Policy, agreed with that view.

"The scarcity claim lacks credibility," he said. "In the last few years, food production has kept well ahead of population growth. The crisis has nothing to do with the real capacity of the Earth to feed us, but has everything to do with our mystified notion of the market and our disempowerment to make an economy that’s democratically accountable."

The UN reported that soaring food prices pushed 963 million people into hunger last December, which is more than the combined population of the United States, Canada and the European Union.

"The harvest of the preceding year following the global recession was actually the world’s record highest - 2.1 billion tons of grain, a five percent increase on any previous annual yield," Monbiot said. "But only one billion of that went to feeding human beings. Where did the rest go?"

According to Lappe and Monbiot, some of that food which was produced during the same period that the world was experiencing a "food crunch" was used to produce biofuels.

"That was a crime against humanity," Monbiot posited. "And the continuing use of grain to turn into fuel is an ongoing crime against humanity, which anyone with humanitarian instincts should oppose as vigorously as possible."

But using food to feed cars does not come close to an even greater apparent misuse of food.

"By far the greatest alternative use of what could otherwise be food was something else, something which accounts for 14 times the total global food deficit, which took up in total 760 million tons of grain last year, wasn’t food it was feed," Monbiot said. "The rate of growth among livestock is faster than that of humans. The food used to raise livestock in about 30 years will out-strip the amount of grain used to feed human beings. This is a humanitarian and environmental disaster."

Food consumption, according ot Monbiot, especially in North America where on average a person eats 4 lbs of meat a week, is unsustainable. "And in consuming these levels of food we’re snatching food out of the mouth of the poor," he said. "We’re in effect killing people by eating meat, because we’re causing people to suffer from malnutrition, and malnutrition kills."

Starvation in developing countries was made worse, according to Lappe, when investors in the United States pulled money out of the sub-prime mortgage crisis to invest in commodities, contributing to the over 50 percent increase in food prices between 2007 and 2008.

"In 2007 Archer Daniels made a 65 percent increase in its profits," he said. "The biggest part of that was from its financial division which has nothing to do necessarily with its trading of commodities, but rather the speculative game it was playing through its financial division on the volatility of food prices."

Lappe, whose book "Diet for a Small Planet" has sold over three million copies worldwide, said the requirements on poorer countries to reduce spending on agriculture, liberalize trade and allow "unfettered imports," while "we in the global north did not follow the same," is also a source for starvation.

"So what we see, from the Philippines to Haiti and elsewhere, are countries that were once largely food self-sufficient - the Philippines, for example, which was a major rice producer is now the leading importer of rice," he said.

Monbiot suggested a direct connection between "feast and famine," arguing that "our feasts cause other peoples’ starvation." He continued that, "a sweeping and radical transformation of our economies, technologies, politics and the ways in which we live" is needed to save the 25,000 people who the UN has indicated die daily from hunger and related causes.

Modern Ghana

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