From A World to Win News Service.;
Along with land grabs, water resources are being diverted to meet foreign capital's needs, squeezing other farmers dry.
The Alwero river in Ethiopia's Gambela region is key for the indigenous people. A new plantation in that region, owned by the Saudi Arabian billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi, is irrigated with water diverted from the Alwero. The company's plans for industrial irrigation would undermine local people's access to this life-giving stream. While Saudi Arabia was receiving its first shipment of rice from Ethiopian in 2009, over five million Ethiopians were hungry and relying on international charity food programmes to feed them.
Neil Crowder from the UK based Chayton Capital, an investment firm that has been acquiring farmlands in Zambia, says, "the value is not the land, the real value is in water. Grabbing of water resources for irrigating large-scale farming could rob millions of people of their access to water and risk the depletion of continent's most precious fresh water resources. But still the message repeated at farmland investor conferences around the globe is that water is abundant in Africa. It is said that Africa's water resources are vastly underutilized and ready to be harnessed for export-oriented agriculture projects." (chaytoncapital.com)
Even freshwater rivers carry salt. The Indus carries 22 million tonnes of salt each year, only half of which is discharged into the Arabian sea. The rest, almost a tonne of salt per year per every irrigated hectare of land, stays on the farmers' fields. This kills crops. So far, a tenth of the fields in Pakistan have become usable for agriculture. A fifth are badly waterlogged, and a quarter produce only meagre crops. The water withdrawal from the Indus River is so intense that in most years it no longer flows all the way to the sea. Capitalist investment does not take this kind of damage into account because it is external to the cost of production. Societies and the planet suffer under these conditions, but capital thrives.
In India, pumped water from deep boreholes irrigates 30 crops that replaced the indigenous farming system, including new plant varieties that require more water than traditional crops. A quarter of India's crops are grown using underground water that is not replenished by rainfall, and the water table is dropping dangerously.
Although the issue of sustainable agriculture is more acute in the dominated countries, it is a global problem. Water tables have fallen substantially in areas in large-scale farming areas in the American Midwest. Fruit plantations in California uses 15 percent more water than rain can replenish. This kind of agriculture cannot last.
The Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake in the world, between the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, has been completely destroyed, with unimaginable ecological and human consequences. The infant mortality rate in this area is now the highest in the world. The two main rivers feeding the lake were diverted to supply water for cotton farming in the 1960s, a decade after socialist planning principles were replaced by the criterion of profit under the rule of a new capitalist ruling class that had arisen within the Soviet Communist Party,
According to the mega-NGO Oxfam, the land foreign investors have leased and bought from poor farmers in the poorer regions of the world is so vast that if it were farmed properly, it could feed a billion people. (Observer, 13 October 2012) But 60 percent of the crops grown on these lands are for biofuel (plants used as energy sources).
Capitalism cannot put sustainable development first, which, among other things, would mean drastically reducing the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that is propelling global warming. Instead, the profitability of biofuels has triggered a "gold rush" mentality among investors seeking higher returns on their investment. Further, biofuel projects are often speculative and may turn out to be disastrous for a country, even in capitalist terms. In northern Mozambique, farmers lost their land to international companies that wanted to grow the jutropha plant for biofuel. This experiment failed, but the damage was already done.
Food prices have gone down on the world market since their historical peak in 2008, but not by much. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), they are now approximately twice as high as a decade ago. (Almost one and a half times as high if adjusted for inflation.) Burgeoning financial speculation on agricultural products and the large-scale land grabs interact to drive up food prices.
Those who live in the imperialist countries spend only a small part of their income for food (nine percent in the U.S. on average), but in the countries dominated by imperialism overcoming hunger is a serious challenge. No matter how much they work, many people are forced to spend 50-70 percent of their income (and sometimes more) just to buy food, often of low quality, so that even if their stomachs are full they may be malnourished. This gap between the extreme ends on the scale of rich and poor is getting bigger. Drought and floods due to climate change have dramatically increased the problem.
When rich countries import food it is like also importing water from the countries they dominate, because the water needed to grow these crops is used to create exported agricultural commodities and not to feed the local people. The imperialist countries and their associates import vast amounts of what has been called "virtual water" from the countries under the domination of their capital. They have situated themselves in such a way that they can even benefit from climate change and drought by increasing their control over real and "virtual" water and food sources in general.
The world needs 200 billion litres of water a second to grow its food, the equivalent of all the water in the Amazon River every day. About 62 percent of the water used to grow crops consumed in the UK is "imported" in this sense, amounting to some 58 bath-tubs full per person per day. (Guardian, 20 August 2008) These sets of activities – capital's indirect import of water as well as direct access to water and the diversion of its natural flow for irrigated industrial farming, along with the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, is a recipe for disaster for the countries where small farmers are being evicted and for the world as a whole.
In the past few years, many grain suppliers have bought each other out, creating an ever-growing monopoly in which a shrinking number of firms control the global food markets. Six huge companies (ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Glencore and Marubeni) control more than 75 percent of the food market, and this process of monopolization is continuing. This trend favours further increases in prices all along the food chain.
This consolidation is also a threat to producers, because farmers are faced with fewer buyers and may have to accept lower prices for their crops. At the same time, farmers are basically dependent on grain trading companies and chemical monopolies for their seeds and fertilisers, and have to pay more to be able to produce. The entire food chain from top to bottom is increasingly under the direct control of monopoly capital. These monopolies are in the position of deciding who will farm and who will not, who will eat and who will not, and also who farms what!
Then there is the problem of wasted food that is created by the way the capitalist distribution system works, driven by the same need for the biggest and quickest profits as capitalist food production. According to Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in the UK, wrong storage methods, improper expiry dates, the constant encouragement of customers to buy more than needed (buy one get one free offers) and too much attention to the appearance of products are some of the major causes of this waste. Thirty percent of the vegetables grown in the UK are not even picked because they don't "look good". Half of the food purchased in Europe and the U.S. ends up in the rubbish bin. In the third world, the waste takes place in the start of the food chain due to the lack of adequate agricultural technology, storage facilities and transport. Roughly half of the 400 billion tonnes of food produced on this planet every year are wasted.
However the most criminal waste is the waste of human beings. Millions of people are dying from hunger and other causes related to poverty (such as lack of medical care). At the same time, the productive power and intellectual abilities of many millions are wasted because they cannot find work or are kept on the margin of society.
Are we doomed to live like this forever?
It is not true that our planet cannot feed its current population. Despite capitalism and other exploitative relations, the Earth now produces more than humanity needs, and it has the capacity to produce much more. The problem is that the capitalist mode of production and its distribution system cannot put the needs of the people and the planet first.
Capitalism proclaims that it represents the final point in human development. But it maintains tremendous impoverishment and is an obstacle to the kind of development the world really needs. This is the reason why getting enough to eat, let alone being able to eat healthy food, is so hard for so much of the world's population. Capitalism cannot give people the most basic right: the right to eat. At the same time, it is not illegal to lay people off, it is not illegal to violently evict millions of people, grab their livelihood and force them into hunger, because all this is crucial for the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. That is the reality of "fair trade".
This system, capitalism and the domination of the world by a handful of monopoly capitalist countries, is not humanity's final destination but a barrier to its advancement to a better world. In order to get rid of hunger and injustice, we must do away with this system and nothing less.