Roots of the Current World Food Crisis

”The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on U.S. agricultural products, which are available in most cases at lower cost.”

So said U.S. Agriculture Secretary John Block back in 1986. If he actually believed that statement, he was a fool. More than likely, though, he was a puppet of Big Ag—that cartel of massive multinational corporations that control global food production and distribution. But, more to the point, Mr. Block was just wrong. Dead wrong.

Here we are, twenty-two years later. Millions of poor people in so-called “developing nations” of the world are facing a crisis of higher food prices and food shortages because of the wicked idea that they should depend on some entity other than themselves for their food security.

According to the U.N.’s World Food Program, at least 34 countries have seen citizen protests in recent months over the high price of food, or the shortage of food. Some protests have turned to riots. People have died. Millions could face starvation or, at best, malnutrition in the years ahead. Yes, Mr. Block was dead wrong.

Few Americans realize that our government, in collusion with internal banking institutions and Big Ag has been undermining the food security of many developing nations in the past few decades.

Don’t misunderstand me—I love my country. But that does not mean I blindly accept that everything self-serving politicians and bureaucrats in government do is good. America is a generous nation in that we lead the world in food aid to those in need. But it appears that with the one hand we give, while, with the other, our government leaders have been working with the destructive supranational forces of Big Ag. We need only look across our southern border for but one of many examples.

Last year Mexicans by the thousands gathered in the streets of Mexico City to protest a sixty percent increase in the price of tortillas. Corn is the primary ingredient in a tortilla. The price of corn had skyrocketed. Sixty percent is substantial. Would you be upset if you were a poor Mexican and your food budget jumped sixty percent? I’ll bet you would. And if you knew the reason why, you’d be even more upset.

It is common knowledge that corn prices in Mexico are high because American corn production is being diverted from food purposes to make biofuel (i.e., ethanol). They tell us it is simply a matter of supply and demand. But there is more to this story that that.

Why is Mexico dependent on U.S. corn anyway? Wasn’t corn first domesticated in Mexico? It sure was. Mexican farmers have been growing corn in Mexico for centuries. In fact, Mexico used to produce pretty much all the corn it needed. Up until the late 1980s Mexico was a corn producing country, not a corn dependent country.

But that has all changed and you should understand what happened. Here’s the story: First, in the 1980s Mexico was in the midst of a debt crisis. The country owed billions to international banks and they were having difficulty paying. So the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and U.S. government stepped in to help with a multi-billion dollar bail out plan. But the bailout came with strings attached. Mexican tariffs, which protected Mexican farmers from unfair foreign competition (U.S. imports, primarily), were lowered, and government support programs for the large Mexican farming peasantry were cut back or eliminated. It was a blow to the agrarian culture of Mexico which has, for centuries, supplied the Mexican people with Mexican corn.

But that was only the first blow of a one-two combination. Then came the knockout punch....

I remember watching the 1992 US presidential debate in which Ross Perot made his famous statement about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He said that if NAFTA was passed, there would be a “giant sucking sound” as American manufacturing jobs went to Mexico. He was, figuratively speaking, right.

I always assumed that NAFTA benefited Mexico by providing jobs. But I realize now that NAFTA has not been a good thing for Mexico. What NAFTA did to Mexico was completely eliminate trade barriers to American corn. That allowed inexpensive, U.S.-taxpayer-subsidized corn to flood into Mexico. As a result, the independent peasant farming culture of that nation was devastated.

Do you think Big Ag knew this would happen? You better believe it! They knew exactly what they and their lackeys in government were doing.

NAFTA delivered Mexico into the hands of the multinational corporations who control global food. Mexico went from being a food independent nation supported by a decentralized agricultural peasantry, to being almost completely dependent on the Industrial Masters. It didn’t happen by chance. It was part of a plan. It’s all about control—control of food—and the prize is greater profits. Don’t ever forget that corporations exist for one purpose—to make a profit.

The few farmers that remain in Mexico are forced to play by Big Ag’s rules in order to survive. They must farm on a bigger scale. They must buy Big Ag’s expensive seed, expensive agricultural chemicals, and utilize expensive debt.

This is diabolical capitalism! You may argue that all of this benefitted American farmers. I will argue that any economic system or policy that destroys the agrarian culture of another nation and reduces it to dependency is immoral.

So what happened to the Mexican peasants? To shed some light on that question, here’s a quote lifted from an article in the May 17th issue of Lancaster Farming newspaper:

”Not only are [Mexican] farmers not growing food, but we are going hungry because we can’t afford the foreign food that drove us off our farms,” said Mario Aguila, 48, who left his farm in Oxaca state because he could no longer support his family.

Aguila now sweeps floors in a Mexico City mall and marched in last year’s protests against tortilla price rises.

The same newspaper article states than an estimated “200,000 Mexicans a year have fled the countryside for the city or the United States since NAFTA was launched in 1994.”

Does that statement mean that the flood of millions of illegals over our southern border in recent years was exacerbated by NAFTA? I’d say so.

The overthrow of national food sovereignty by the global food oligopoly, with help from the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and western governments has happened in most of South America, It has happened in the Phillipines. It has happened to a degree in Africa. Come to think of it, it has happened in America. This nation is becoming less and less food independent all the time. And this nation is going deeper and deeper into debt all the time. And the limitless flow of cheap oil appears to coming to an end.

My point in relating all of this is to underscore that Big Ag is not Good Ag. And being dependent on Big Ag for food is national folly. I believe it is also personal folly. Powerful, arrogant, self-serving, and foolish forces are at play in the world. We as individuals have little control over them, yet we will all, to one degree or another, eventually pay for the consequences for their wickedness.

On a more positive note, we, the “little” people, do have control over how we live our own lives and how dependent we will be on the Industrial Providers. We can make a deliberate decision to grow gardens and make local food connections with like-minded people. We can choose to work at eliminating personal debt. We can choose to simplify our lives, our wants, our needs; our dependencies on all the “stuff” of our consumer culture. We can choose, in other words, to be voluntary, self-reliant peasants. It is a contrarian way of living but I think there is great wisdom in it, especially in these uncertain times we live in.


brierrabbit said...

Great post! I am amazed at the selfishness and destructiveness that groups of people in expensive suits, can cause. It should be self evident to any bubblehead, that being able to provide food to feed your own, is more important than anything else. Starving tends to ruin profits. Powerful industries, politicians, and interest groups, sit around tables, and come up with vast economics policies that none of them have any real clue, how they are going to turn out. None of them seem to have any concern for how things will turn out for the "little people". I have over the last several years of my life come to literally hate, {probably unfairly} anything, stores, businesses, goverments, corporations, industrial agriculture, etc, that is too big. It seems like anytime an organization gets beyond a certain size, it almost cannot, not hurt someone, by it's very size alone. Worse, corporations, who are already so big, and powerful, to the point of often having what am ounts to thier own armies, and even small navies, want to be bigger still. Something in capitalistic globalism, just cannot say to itself, "We are big enough"

Jimsimply said...

Thanks, Herrick, for another insightful post. My family and I are moving toward a more independent lifestyle, slowly but surely, and I'm grateful for your blog's inspiration.

Unknown said...

My family are working on becoming more independent as well and we are so inspired by all of your posts. Thank you for taking the time to write things that really make sense and are actually helping us 'little people'.

Andy said...

While I agree NAFTA is not good - and big ag has issues... I'm not so sure this is as one sided (or maybe better stated - as simple) of a problem as you make it... maybe it is - but I don't think so.
I typed out a related thought on this a while back - Thank here.
No doubt food independence as a individual or a family or a community is a good thing in many ways - but I just don't buy the argument that Big Ag should be completely demonized - there has been a considerable amount of positive they have contributed to the world and quality of life many in the world enjoy.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi andy & kelli,
Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you on this one. The corporate agribusiness oligarchy destroys the environment, destroys small family farms, destroys traditional agrarian communities, and, as this blog explains, seeks to make every person and nation on earth dependent on it for food. They have no business messing with the genetic material of plants and animals and, in so doing, creating unnatural, unhealthy, toxic, and potentially lethal new substances. The more I learn about BigAg, what it has done, and how it operates, the more convinced I am that it should be completely demonized. I have nothing good to say about BigAg. Nothing.

Kimberly Wallis said...

There is no simple answer to any large issue, and today one of the largest issues is about Big Ag. My father is a small family farmer. No longer are families having 8-10 children to help with farm work and if they did, there would be no possible way to support them with the expense farming incurs today. If it were not for the biotechnology used by Big Ag, there would be NO possible way for him and my mother to stay on the farm or to be able to produce the quantities of food to contribute to the world's needs. The work load is absolutely enormous, even for a 1,000 acre farm. And Andi and Kelly are right - if we all changed over from conventional farming to organic, more people would go without food than we know today. Big Ag is a necessary evil but there are pros and cons - I disagree with genetic modifications in order to make plants resistant to herbicides, for example, but it's a fantastic thing for rice to be genetically modified with more beta carotene for better nutrition.