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LATIN AMERICA
In support of food justice
Elsa Chanduví Jaña
11/29/2011
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For organized civil society, it’s about changing current food and agricultural systems.

“The food basket — corn, wheat — are in the hands of powerful countries. The management of land, production, and food marketing systems is not right, there is food injustice”.

That is how Rosario Romero, researcher for the non-governmental organization Forum Solidaridad Perú, defines the current food crisis, adding that “in the globalized system, the market defines everything — whether people eat or not”.

The current food crisis poses a grave threat to the poorest sectors in Latin America, the region with the greatest inequality in the world and where more than 52.5 million people suffer from hunger.

During the first months of the year, international food prices for staples like wheat and corn topped the peak of the 2008 food crisis when there was an increase of nearly 50% over the previous year. The surge in food prices worldwide worsens hunger and malnutrition for almost 10% of the region’s population.

To face the food crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggests that food security must be attained, meaning that people must have secure access at all times to enough food for a healthy living.

This goal seems almost impossible for the nearly 30% of Latin America’s rural population that lives in extreme poverty; they don’t have money to buy enough food and the price of food is on the rise.

“Women are most affected because they are the ones who have to deal with this every day at the market”, Romero said.
In response to the problem, explained Romero, governments resort to anti-poverty or food security programs, and the responsibility falls again on the shoulders of women.

In the 1980s, Peru saw the emergence of “comedores populares”, or soup kitchens in which organized groups of women, in solidarity, prepared meals that were financially accessible to each other. In the 1990s, the state began subsidizing the comedores, which still exist but have come to be a source of political clientelism by successive governments.

But the primary criticism of programs like the comedores populares, or of food security, is that they “create dependency on the part of the beneficiaries, which in the long term goes against their ability to get out of that situation,” said Eduardo Zegarra, lead researcher for Peruvian non-governmental organization Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE).

Another system is possible
For the international movement Vía Campesina, it’s not enough for food to be available, accessible, adequate and safe; it’s about achieving food sovereignty, that is, giving priority to the local production and consumption of food. This requires “the development of a sustainable farm production model that favors the communities and their environment.”

In that sense, Vía Campesina raises its voice against the production of biofuels — which uses land where food could be grown to produce plants for the generation of fuels — which, except in certain cases, produce fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

“The current expansion of biofuels production is contributing to the massive concentration of capital for landowners, large companies, and multinationals, which in turn instigates an agrarian counter-reform worldwide. What’s more, it contributes to speculation on foodstuffs and land prices,” according to Vía Campesina.

The call document for the European Forum for Food Sovereignty, held in Austria in August, read: “The food and agricultural system is now dominated by the logic of competitiveness and increased commodification which allows for benefits for agro-industry and big retailers that seek to maintain these benefits.

Increased pressure on prices (low-farm gate prices, high prices to consumers, publicity for unhealthy transformed junk food) and working conditions (precarious contracts, flexibility, heavy work load) are an inherent part of this system.”

“What happened was that the states gave up their role of seeking well-being for citizens, and left the market to resolve everything. Those issues of inequality, marginalization, food injustice — the market is not going to resolve them because the market caused them,” said Romero.

States should regain some of their dignity and care what happens to citizens by implementing agricultural policies that seek food sovereignty and justice, while building sustainable rural infrastructures.

As the organization Amigos de la Tierra highlights, this “requires a positive reconversion of the land, from intensive, large-scale farming agriculture, to ecologically sound and diverse systems”.


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