Saturday, April 12, 2008

Food Crisis for Thought: Neoliberalism Fails to Deliver Food Security

For decades technocrats and politicians in Washington D.C. have paraded Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick's 'minimal-state' as the undisputed champion of modern political economy---the narrow path to prosperity and increased living standards in post-colonial countries in the developing world. But the Washington Consensus has failed to deliver the most basic human necessities to the poor and the current food crisis in the global South is a text-book example of what Egyptian economist Samir Amin has identified as a "Liberal Virus".

Sky high food prices, climate change, an increasingly nugatory dollar, and Western subsidies towards the production of biofuels have created a "perfect storm" against the poor world-wide. There is no part of the developing world left unblemished by the current food crisis and countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Argentina, Haiti, and Senegal have reported riots and other forms of social upheaval in response.

Facing pressure from their populations, many nations are fasting from vulgar classical economic liberalism to alleviate the effects of global market-failure by protecting their own domestic food industries. In Asia some of the largest rice exporters in the world including India, Cambodia, China and Vietnam, are either dramatically cutting back or have completely banned exports of rice in a last ditch effort to provide some semblance of food security for their citizens.

In Africa however, there is no such option. A food crisis that may be new for some in the global economy has been intrinsic in this continent for decades and has only worsened in recent months. The structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund demanded the whole sale abandonment of large scale domestic agricultural production for a "competitive advantage" in the extraction of cheap natural resources such as oil, diamonds and fish. African nations, dependent on food imports and aid from the West are reeling with social unrest and riots as the poor and middle-classes simply cannot afford enough food for daily consumption. In Sierra Leone the price of food has risen by 300 percent.

The World Bank has been obliged to join the growing chorus of international organizations warning of a deepening global crisis over the rising cost of food. The current head of the World Bank Robert Zoellick has asked rich nations to commit at least $500 million to the UN World Food Program to fight hunger in emergencies. Zoellick said prices of rice have risen a whopping 75 percent over the last two years.

“This is about recognizing a growing emergency, acting and seizing opportunity, too. The world can do this. We can do this. We can have a new deal on global food policy."

The "New Deal", referred to by Zoellick is needless to say a call for agrarian sectors in emerging countries to be more productive and competitive in global markets. But the broken record skipping from zonked Bretton Woods institutions is likely to be cut in the coming months ahead by post-colonial nations in Asia and Latin America looking to avoid political unrest---offering temporary concessions to the poor in the form of price controls and export protections. For the Bush Administration the food crisis will add fuel to a fire of domestic and Latin American hostility to the proposed Colombian-U.S. free-trade deal--- currently stalled for a vote in the Congress by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

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