2000s >> 2001 >> no-1168-november-2001

World Hunger: Why the FAO fails

The second of three special reports on another entirely preventable war on humanity – world hunger

The job given to the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 1945 to advise, assist and co-ordinate the world-wide fight against hunger had no chance of success. The “profits before people” laws of the capitalist system were always going to come before the needs of the hungry. Last month we gave figures showing that world hunger has not improved but is getting worse. Over the past 50 years this has been accepted by the FAO, indeed they were one source of the figures. The foreword to its l979 book Fighting World Hunger said “the fact that everyone has a right to enough to eat is now everywhere accepted and more widely proclaimed than ever before. But alongside this goes the fact that more human beings are hungry than ever before and that the number is growing all the time”.

The worsening trend has continued. In 1974/5 the number of seriously undernourished was 435 million. The present FAO Factfile shows an increase to 828 million. The reality behind this brief statistic is that many thousands of men, women and children are dying every day. Fighting World Hunger asked the question “Why is there this gap between the growing realisation of our common humanity and the reality of growing deprivation which seems to deny it?”

It is a good question but for all its great store of technical knowledge the FAO has been unable to apply any solutions. This knowledge covers every aspect of food production. By satellite it has completed a soil map of the Earth’s surface which, together with data on climates, matches the suitability of soil types with various crops. It monitors the use of land and the loss of soil fertility through erosion and misuse. From forests to fisheries, the important cereals such as wheat, maize and rice; fruits, vegetables, salad crops and spices, seed development, fertilisers, plant disease and irrigation methods, through its research and publications, the FAO is able to provide advice on any problem to do with the production of food.

But what it cannot do is actively co-operate with communities throughout the world in the vital work of making good quality food available for every person. So far as the production of food is concerned the role of the FAO is more symbolic than real and the reason for this is suggested by itself. It does acknowledge its limitations as a result of having to work within a world capitalist system that imposes severe and unpredictable constraints on what can be produced for sale for profit in the food markets.

For example, its State of Food and Agriculture 1999 (SOFA 1999) states that this

“also reviews global agriculture from the perspective of supply and demand, both of which have been hit hard by the recent financial crisis. In crisis-hit countries of Asia, lower agricultural output and demand, along with falling gross domestic product and increased unemployment, created greater food insecurity for large segments of the population. The effects of the crisis were felt globally, as the reduced purchasing power of crisis hit countries caused import demand and agricultural commodity prices to decline worldwide”.

Then further: “The report (SOFA 99) highlights an alarming trend in this regard – human factors, such as armed conflicts and economic collapse, are playing an increasing role in provoking food shortages.”

Since it is impossible to envisage a world capitalist system without recessions, unemployment, financial crises, economic collapse and armed conflicts, such FAO reports as SOFA 99 point directly to capitalism being the cause of the problem of world hunger. It is significant that it goes on to insist that “preventing conflict and assuring sustainable economic growth are essential if World Food Summit goals are to be met and emergency food shortages avoided”. The idea that this can be achieved within capitalism denies all experience. It substitutes blind optimism for sound analysis and real solutions.

This is not to say that the people of the world cannot unite in the work of ending hunger but for this we must get rid of capitalism. It is only by working with the relationships of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs that it would be possible. On this socialist basis the work of ending hunger would be straightforward and immensely rewarding. And this is when the FAO would at last be able to fulfil its aims.

Limiting production
Over the past 50 years, governments in the developed countries have intervened massively in farming. They have used subsidies, compensation and strictly enforced quotas to limit production. This has resulted in food being destroyed and land taken out of production to keep output more or less in line with market capacity. The amount of food that can be sold on the markets is always much less than could be produced directly for needs. Our inability to make full use of productive powers is a permanent feature of capitalist farming but in socialism this restriction will be removed. Through voluntary co-operation and with the ability to freely organise and use all the factors of production and distribution, communities across the world will have no barriers against producing food in the amounts required for needs.

With food, it is possible to increase production rapidly because a lot can be done with hand labour. It is not necessary to first expand means of production. Whilst industry and manufacture may take time to bring in more machinery and equipment, local initiatives could mean more people using their local land resources for more intensive production. But, to begin with, a socialist world could immediately stop people dying of hunger with a more equal distribution of scarce supplies. At the same time local initiatives would greatly improve the supply of food within a very short time

But local food production is limited by variations of soil and climate, which means that local projects would contribute to balanced production throughout the regions of the world. On this larger scale the grain-producing regions of America, Canada, Australia and Asia would continue to be important. Wheat, maize and rice are basic to world agriculture and new areas could be developed for the production of these cereals together with the whole range of nutritious fruits and vegetables.

With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the land resources of the planet in whatever location may be considered best. A priority in such decisions would be care of the environment. The possibility that conservation methods might require more people would not matter. There would be no economic pressure to carry on using destructive production methods that use the least amounts of labour. Furthermore, with the ending of occupations such as those in insurance, finance and banking, millions of people would become available for useful production in socialism. Moving on from the insanities of capitalism what more meaningful way could there be to take up a new life in a better world than to join in with the work of stopping people dying from hunger?

To help take up this challenge, the FAO, together with other potentially useful organisations, would be ready made to advise, assist and help co-ordinate this great project. From any technical viewpoint, from the fact that abundant resources of land are available, and given the ability of every person to co-operate with others, the relentless horror story of millions of men, women and children dying every day from hunger is so easily preventable.

In a final article we will suggest practical ways that specialist bodies like FAO could work in socialism within a world system of democratic administration.

Pieter Lawrence

Leave a Reply