Stuffed and starved: Reclaiming the global food system

This last session of the day in St Hilda’s was worth the wait, and bleary- eyed activists soon packed out and occupied every available chair and piece of floor space in the venue. This captivating and engaging discussion highlighted the problems caused by the current global food system, and the ways in which we can work together to change it for the better.

Deborah Doane from the World Development Movement clearly and concisely outlined the root problems with the current global food system. She talked about the issue of waste, and rejected the notion that there is not enough food to feed the world, insisting that the problem lies not in food production, but instead in food politics. Deborah dismissed the idea that the remedy lies in injecting more money into food production. She placed the problem in the uneven and unethical disparity of food distribution. While we burden ourselves with health problems from overeating in the West, many other parts of the world are left without enough food to survive; a mind-boggling one third of the food that we produce ends up as waste.

Deborah talked about how we have come to situate ourselves within this dire situation. She pointed her finger at the stripping and replacement of locally-based knowledge with corporate monopolies, who dominate with top-down approaches, and whose vested interest lies in profiting from the market; instead of ensuring people all over the world have enough to eat.

Next up on the panel was Kirtana Chandrasekara, who spoke of the illusion of control and choice in food we buy in shops and supermarket. In the West at least, we are made to believe that we have free choice of what’s in our diet, when in fact most food we buy contains the same four components: salt, fat, sugar and soya. She talked about the ‘commodification of life’ and the continuing battle against corporations not only in ownership of global food networks, but now also now in green energy. She stated that the crisis that currently exists in the food sector is down to the same conditions that have caused the crisis in the financial market: deregulation.

Kirtana went on to outline the problems with the increasing financialisation of the global food system, highlighting its inherent flaw of putting profit before people. This factor has manifested itself in areas such as community isolation and poor pay. She then spoke of what is being done at government level to combat this travesty and drew attention to Malawi, who rejected the forced liberalisation of their food production by heavily subsidising farmers and investing in small-holder production, resulting in greater food security and ensuring the safety of farmers’ livelihoods. She talked about what is happening at the grassroots level, giving the example of Egypt, and urged people to recognise current revolutions of small scale farmers in reaction to corporate domination. She stated that the greatest example of this is the fight against global seed sales, where only ten companies dominate two thirds of the market, and where 80% of GM seed sales are owned by multinational corporation Monsanto. This effectively means that, due to a lack of competition, companies have come to be able to charge what they want for seeds which people rely on for survival. This has resulted in a 50% price increase in the last ten years. While people become increasingly desperate and pay more for seeds, companies see record profits.

Kirtana extended the notion of monopolistic control to Bio-tech companies, and the central problem of research results. Again, a lack of real competition has led to a narrative which, instead of representing scientific objectivity, actually just represents corporate interest.

As an alternative to the problems highlighted, Kirtana suggests the Food Serenity Movement. This is a system based on feeding people before profit; it is a movement spreading across the world, helping to disable the genocide of small farmers. Small land holders still grow 70% of food produced in the world, and an astonishing three quarters of that food produced is outside of corporate control. The food Serenity Movement seeks to put the control of food back into the people’s hands by introducing local food systems, giving people what they want, and rebuilding local knowledge and skills that have been stripped by corporate control. This is not only a movement for farmers, but a movement for us all in being able to combat corporate-led capitalism.

Last up on the panel was Patrick Kroeser, a representative from Crofters in Scotland, who he says are the last organised groups of peasants in the UK. Patrick spoke of how before industrial agriculture the land was managed by crofting, which is the traditional system of land tenure. He talked of the importance of supporting Crofters and the negative impact that industrial agriculture has had on not only the land, but also on community life.

Patrick also criticised the destructive element of de regulation; seeing the problem as originating in the post-war period when people were forced to become self sufficient from the land. Due to lack of regulations, landlords were able to kick people off their land when they were able to make greater profits elsewhere, disregarding people’s rights to their means of production.  Patrick also publicised the organisation Naviar Compassion, a movement that is part of Food Serenity, which seeks to reclaim food production whilst helping to maintain communities and protect the environment.Patrick called for a reduction in the $60 billion a year support for industrial agriculture, and for greater subsidies to support small-hold farmers. He appealed to members of the public to be part of the change, by being aware of what your buying, buying local food or even better growing your own, and reconnecting with food production.

The unifying narrative that drew all three of these dynamic and interesting speakers together was the fact that we need to retake control of our food system, in a concerted and coordinated effort to put people, not profit, first.

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