Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Walden Bello (Verso, 2009)
Food Rebellions! Crisis and the hunger for justice
Raj Patel and Eric Holt-Giménez (Pambazuka Press, 2009)
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the number of malnourished people exceeded one billion for the first time in 2009. What’s more, it’s clear this isn’t just as a result of a growing world population – the figure represents an 11 per cent increase in just a year. It’s a direct effect of the food crisis that pushed up food prices so dramatically in early 2008 and so far has kept them relatively high.
There has been much debate about the causes of this crisis; the volatile price of oil, the agrofuels boom, impacts of climate change, increased demand for meat and financial speculation on grain all clearly played a part. But what both of these books argue is that these are just proximate causes. Determining the ultimate causes involves tracing the fate of agriculture in the global South during the past 50 years and shining a light on what amounts to a corporate takeover of the world’s food systems.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the ‘green revolution’ unleashed on the South, a system of industrialising agriculture particularly through the use of pesticides. Although this increased yields in the short term, particularly in Asia, it left a legacy of debt and environmental pollution that nevertheless benefited seed and pesticide companies enormously and also saw agriculture concentrated into fewer hands.
Although encouraged by the World Bank, the green revolution was a state-led process. As neoliberalism took hold in the 1980s, the state fell out of favour and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund used the power they had as a result of the debt crisis to force developing countries to junk state marketing boards, agricultural subsidies, grain reserves and other ‘market distortions’. Agriculture was reorientated towards cash crops for export.
More recent free-trade agreements with the North have dealt the final blow, undermining local production through a flood of subsidised food products from the US and Europe. Thus the scene was set for the current crisis.
Walden Bello explains this process very well, taking the Philippines, Africa, Mexico and China for a chapter each, as well as examining the role of
agrofuels in the current crisis. A final chapter looks at the alternatives, in particular profiling the international peasant movement, La Via Campesina, and its proposal for democratic control of the food system via ‘food sovereignty’.
Patel and Holt-Giménez, meanwhile, take a very similar approach (their book even has a foreword by Bello). Yet while The Food Wars concentrates on the economic history of the crisis, and probably beats them on clarity here, where Food Rebellions! really comes into its own is in the substantial space it devotes to solutions.
Their book is full of evidence that smallholder agriculture based on ‘agroecology’, basically organic or near-organic farming, can actually be more productive than large-scale industrial monocultures. Scientific research into improving such forms of agriculture struggles to receive funding, while patentable technologies like GM get vast sums. Nevertheless, adaptations of traditional peasant knowledge have led to the development of more efficient sustainable farming in recent years – techniques which have then been spread through initiatives such as the ‘Campesino a Campesino’ movement in Latin America.
The call for a local, sustainable approach to farming from the environmental movement has become familiar in the UK, but it isn’t just agriculture’s contribution to climate change that means this approach matters. The resilience of agriculture in the face of climate change, especially in the South, depends on the diverse cropping of agroecological farms, which can be highly adaptive in the face of climate change impacts. Yet the biotech firms and their allies, who include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are pushing GM crops as a part of a new ‘green revolution for Africa’. Both these books are useful in making the argument that we don’t need GM to ‘feed the world’ as Hilary Benn has recently suggested.
Agricultural globalisation has been a disaster for the climate, for biodiversity, and for the small producers of the global South, many of whom have been forced to abandon farming and try to scrape a living in the mega-slums around major cities. Yet peasants are now organising against this immiseration, and insisting that they, not the North’s official development experts, have the solutions to the food crisis. As in so many areas of our lives, while these solutions may have technical and cultural sides to them, in the end they come down to winning the battle of democracy against the power of capital.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones