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on 15 July 2010
Director of Focus on the Global South and professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines, Walden Bello has written an excellent introduction on the international politics of food. Written just after the rocketing food prices of 2006 to 2008 he identifies the roots of the crisis in the "free" trade agreements and Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP's) that have destroyed third world food sovereignty under a barrage of subsidised exports from the 1st world, destruction of government support for domestic agriculture in the 3rd world, orientating agriculture away from fulfilling domestic demand to that of export markets, the sundering of the peasantry and rural population from the land when the main alternative is life in the burgeoning third world slums, with little prospect of paid work.

Bello also looks at one of the most popular books on the subject, Peter Collier's The Bottom Billion, which is characterised as being the orthodox approach. Collier identifies the causes of the food crisis as (i) rising prosperity in China and India, (ii) governments being lacklustre in their support of commercial farming in Africa, (iii) the failure to make use of GM crops, and (iv) the growing consumption of agricultural land and produce by the bio-fuels industry. Bello is sceptical about the effect of the first point, on the second and third he is deeply critical. Only the last point is deemed to have had an effect on the price of food, and is regarded by Bello as a worrying development that has a potential to have disastrous effects if it continues it's growth.

The main body of the text is taking up with case studies that illustrate how the issues mentioned in the first paragraph have affected different countries (China, Mexico and the Philippines) as well as African agriculture in general. He also examines the bio-fuel industry, the relationship between peasants and capitalism as well as a number of examples of peasant resistance including the inspirational Via Campesina (Peasants Way).

"The Food Wars" is an excellent, and succinct introduction to the international politics of food that asks questions of the orthodox solutions for the food crisis (Agri-business, food aid, "free" trade), and offers an alternative based on food sovereignty, deglobalisation and privileging peasants over vast corporate food interests.
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Walden Bello returns in this essay to his favorite and mightily important themes of the world's economic (dis)order, national sovereignty, the immense chasm between the haves and the have-nots and the control by the haves of major international organisms (WTO, IMF, World Bank) in order to further their economic stranglehold on the defenseless.

International and national hypocrisy at a heavy cost for the victims
Through `structural adjustment' policies, international organizations like the IMF and the WTO, starved local agriculture of State support (fertilizer subsidies, price controls, food quotas and tariffs) in Africa, South-America and Asia. Under the cloak of `free markets', they killed the local peasantry by forcing the small farmers out of the production process, while favoring international food conglomerates. A number of food self-sufficient countries became net food importers instead of net exporters (Mexico for corn, the Philippines for rice).
Living standard inequalities worldwide didn't diminish as promised, but grew instead. In Africa, the number of people living on less than a dollar a day doubled.
Walden Bello stigmatizes those countries who control those organizations and the international food scene as cynical hypocrites using double standards by imposing free trade on the rest of the world, while in the meantime protecting and subsidizing their own national producers.

Local v. global food production
W. Bello's drastic solution for stemming the bleeding is deglobalization: production of `healthy' diversified food for local markets (self-sufficiency) thereby assuring national food sovereignty and security. Local agriculture should be protected against subsidized dumping prices and against the genetic engineering industry, which with its intellectual property rights on seeds means not less than the complete dispossession of the peasantry (their seeds).
Another threat is the agro fuel industry which diverts land from food production and could provoke an increase of food prices.

Economic policies
Of course, W. Bello's economic vision is in no way a neoliberal one, but also not one based on centralized planning.
His solution is `real' democracy, a mixed economy embedded in the civil society; not a society driven by the economy, but an economy driven by a democratic society. His proposed measures are land redistribution, reduction of environmental disequilibria (not chemical-intensive agriculture or biotechnology) and certainly not a market system which favors monocultures and monopoly profits.

Walden Bello's eminent book is a must read for all those who want to understand the world we live in.
I also highly recommend F. William Engdahl's book `Seeds of Destruction' and the movie 'Food Inc.' by Robert Kenner.
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