Food – a commodity or a human right?

So – food: The thing we all depend on, the thing that gives us energy to live and vital nutrition, what is it? A commodity like all other commodities, made to make money on, or a basic human right that everyone should have a right to?

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

How you answer that question tells a lot about you and what kind of food policy you support.

As for me, you can probably guess my answer. That food is a human right isn’t just an ideal but a fact. It says so in the human rights declaration. But what does that actually mean? I mean, when people is deprived of food, when One billion people starve, as today, and when a child dies every sixth second because of food deprivation, who is to blame? And more important, who is to take the responibility for it?

In 2002, the US refused to sign a text saying that food is a human right. The juridicial implications of this is that the US would like to avoid being legally bound to any responsibility when it comes to poor people starving. On a rhetorical level, the US supports the human rights like all other, but not when it comes to politics. Why? Because they think it’s each country’s own responsibility to make sure that its inhabitants don’t starve.

What comes out of this? Well, it means that the US can continue to support a global food policy that on a rhetorical level claims to want to eradicate hunger and poverty, but in reality tries to uphold status quo and make as much money as possible. And I’m not just talking about the US here, let that be clear.

Every country that is historically responsible for contributing to the fact that we have the largest amount og hunger stricken people in the world ever is responsible, as well as all the rich countries that says hunger must be combated with all means, while utilizing no means, or the means that everyone knows won’t work. Yes, just by upholding the regime that is today, we are all responsible of the global hunger we see today.

But more on the individual responibility another time. Right now back to perhaps the biggest scandale in modern history: The fact that we today have a trade regime that systematically robs food from hungry people that desperately need it. We have a regime today which regards food as a basic commodity, as a good that is supposed to be traded on a global market like any other thing. What does this entail?

A lot of things, amongst others:
– That the food production system follows along captalist and neoliberal lines, meaning that those with money has the most power, and those with power get even more money.
– That global food production is governed by the principles of high gain and quick profits to the ones on the top, no matter what the social concequences are
– That the system we have now contributes to an increase in inequality and unfair distribution of natural resources, making the poor even poorer, and the hungy even hungrier
– That big transnational companies get to have control over icreasingly larger areas of land and markets, producing more and more goods that are directly exported ut of poor countries
– That poor rural farmers in the global South keep getting forced to produce cash crop food for a large, global market instead of producing healthy and nutritious food for themselves and for local consumtpion.
– And that companies like for example Monsanto get to patent traditionally common natural resources like seeds, making old cultivation and trading traditions amongst farmers illegal, and makes it illegal to own seeds that are not in fact bought from Monsanto.

Personally, I can’t even begin to undertand how it is possible that we have come to this. Isn’t it quite strange that about 75 per cent of the hungry people in the world is involved in food production? Isn’t it also quite strange that since we began with neoliberal food politics, especially since the 80’s, hunger has just increased? I mean, this is a system meant to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the world markets. And the market mechanisms are perfect, right?

Apparently not. Obviously, this is one of the most well-crafted lies the capitalist world has come up with ever. The truth is, hunger wasn’t eradicated when food was abundant and food prices were low, and it certainly won’t be eradicated now, with an ever higher population increase, food scarcity and high food prices.

The market will never fix this. Why? Because the market doesn’t care about people. It care about profits. It doesn’t even care about the fact that the way we are doing agriculture at the moment is destroying it’s own natural foundation from which it gets it’s wealth from; that the nature gets ruined because the industrial agriculture isn’t sustainable.

It’s all about here and now. No thought for consequences. Not as long as somebody makes money today. No matter how many people die.

This is food as a commodity. It will never reach out to the hungry when the hungry don’t have money to buy it. We, on the other hand, have loads of money. We buy so much food that we throw away up to 50% of it. Because we have become wealthy at the expence of those who now can’t scrape together enough money for more than one meal a day.

Something is clearly wrong here. What is positive, however, is that it can be changed. Rather: we can change it. Of course, hunger could have been eradicated a long time ago, had the world leaders actually wanted it. But it’s not in their interest. Therefore, we should let ourselves get in touch with the moral consience we all have, and call on those with power to take responsibility. The world can be changed, and people like these guys are the ones who make it possible. La via campesina has started a worldwide movement, doing progress for the sake of food sovereignty every day.

But it’s not enough. It takes all of us to do it. All who dream or once have dreamed that a better and more just world is possible. Food is a human right, and the fact that one billion people in the world today live in hunger, is humanity’s – by far – biggest disgrace.

Troy Davis heading for the gallows

I’m quite convinced that the United states of America is the country with the largest number of moral ironies in the world. Despite the fact that it calls itself a leading country in development and modernization, it is in many aspects a developing country.

One of the examples to prove that is the country’s total lack of will to ratify or even try to follow BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.

One should think that a country as “modern”, “developed” and certainly powerful as the US, bearing some moral highground, would have come as far as to reckognize the principals which a well-functioning democracy is built on (being as it is that they seemingly praise democracy so high), but no. We see it time after time. At this point, the US is the only country in the world (apart from Somalia, which is in lack of a functioning government) that haven’t ratified something as basic as the children’s convention on human rights. This is of course extremely disturbing, but the fact that they still practise the death penalty is the most horrific at all.

That someone can be centenced to death is of course in itself a direct breach of the human rights declaration. Regardless of whether the person in question in guilty or not. What signifies the persons that are convicted to the death penalty can often be that they’re poor (because the rich ones have ways to avoid these uncomfortable situations), have had an extremely bad timing, or that the judge just doesn’t like’em.

The human rights clearly states that every person has a right to live, and when someone takes a life away, it’s murder. That this “someone” is a state, doesn’t legitimize it, it only makes it much, much worse.

But, when the person in question, like in this case with Troy Davis, is convicted without any evidence, it just makes the whole practise downright horrific. In this case, Davis has been sitting on a cell for eighteen years, there’s no proof that he’s done a crime, and seven out of nine witnesses have pulled their statements. And still the judge has decided to go ahead with the death penalty! Not only has the United States without any right ruined a man’s life forever by stealing away 18 years of his life, he will now also be murdered for something he can’t be proven to have done. And this goes on in the world’s so-called most modern country!

This is the US’s way of saying screw you, guys, we actually don’t give a shit about life worth, human rights or a fair legal system. We do as we want to, because we are just so fucking awesome, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.

Well, I don’t think it’s OK. And you shouldn’t think it’s okay. Because it’s not. It sucks. And it’s time to put a stop to it. Americans: Wake up. This isn’t tha way you want your society to be.

So what can you do?

A lot of things.

Read about Troy Davis’ case, for example here. And here.
Join Amnesty.
Sign petitions, for example Amnesty Norway’s protest petition.
Arrange demonstrations.
Put pressure on your government.
Engage in the public debate.
Talk to your friends about this.
And remember this face:

This is the guy.

Developing countries soon to take the lead?

 

These are exciting times!

A couple of days ago, I attended Norfund’s summer conference in Oslo. Norfund is the Norwegian state’s investment company intended to invest in profitable and sustainable enterprises in developing countries. The conference speakers had many interesting things to say regarding today’s investment landspace in the developing world, as well as different aspects that proves to be challenging at this point, and that we should focus on in the years to come.

First of all, I’m positive to the mandate of Norfund, and the ideology that is behind it. Kjell Roland, the first speaker and adm. dir. of Norfund, started the conference by talking a bit about the traditional “Washington” view of development aid, and the new “Beijing” approach taken by the Chinese in investing in different projects in Africa. I’m strongly persuaded to think that big governemental development aid plans are often misguided, wrong-focused and doomed to failure. The Washington approach has been to apply tha exact kind of model on all reciever countries, thinking that aid alone without any sense of responsibility or demand of results will straighten things out. This is of course never the case. What China has done, is to listen to the locals, hear what it is they want, respect differences between countries, invest in projects that are going to do well, and make everyone in each link responsible for theis assignments. An important stipulate is that both the investor and the locals are interested in achieving the same things.

These are principals that it seems like both Norfund and the Norwegian aid politic in general seems to show some interest in. This is very positive, I think. If we can keep in mind that development also has to be sustainable, and has to respect democratic principals and human rights, the evolvement is very positive indeed.

As it looks now, the western countries with U.S.A. and certain EU countries at the lead, seems to be lagging behind developmentwise. The economic growth in Germany was reportedly on 0.1% from january to march this year, which in reality means that the engines on the German locomotive has stopped. The Western world is coming to a halt. On the other hand, many african countries experiences a surge in the economic growth, with some countries nearing a 10% increase. This is completely new in history. Of course, the developing world has a long way to go, but it’s good to see that the speed is rapidly increasing.

So what are the challenges? One can talk about many things.

A major issue is the water problem. Many african countries are suffering from periods of drought, and with the climate changes, this is only getting worse. The hunger crisis on the horn of Africa is an all too real example. With proper irrigation systems, this could be prevented, and much bigger land areas could have been used for agriculture. This could have been used to feed populations where too many now are starving. This is an absolute condition to help a country develop as a whole; no-one can grow and flourish without food and a good health.

Agriculture is in my opinion the number one thing we have to focus on in all developments aid and investments. African countries have to get self-sustained. And with the high food prices at the world market right now, african countries can have a lot to gain on exporting wares as well. But I think it’s also important to remember that there is in reality enough food being produced as it is. It’s just that the unfair systems that governs politics globally, ensures that the world’s resources are unjustly distributed. This is the reason why almost one billion people are cronicly hungry. Had these systems not been in work, hunger had not been a problem anywhere. So let’s not lose the perspective on reality.

Corruption is another challenge, and it’s an important part of many cultures. This is why we always should demand responsibility, accountability and results in our dealings with development aid.

But the main challenge is to procure good leadership and get the necessary human resources. Without it, nothing else will function. And this is something we always have to keep in mind.

With the global economic situation being what it is, the progress in the time to come will be extremely interesting to follow. Will the situation turn towards a more optimistic outcome for Europe? Or can it be that the traditional industrialised western countries will lose it’s economical and cultural hegemony? Will the NIC-countries and soon also african countries be the new winners? Is it the beginning of a new era where we wil have to get used to being inferior? Or will the economic recession in western countries pull the rest of the world along with it, making the whole world stop?

As it is, we have yet to find out.

The paradox of the free market, the conservatives and the survival of the fittest

Survival of the fittest. As many may not know, this wellknown quote does not originate from the man with the monkeys and finches, but from the slightly less renowned Herbert Spencer, who dabbled in society theory in the 1800’s. What might also surprise, is that he referred to the society, and not animals, when he said it.

This seed to social darwinism led, to make the story short, to a popular political ideology who caracterises conservative thinking to this day. That is, a way to justify in social terms why some are rich and become richer while others are doomed to a life in poverty. Conservative polititians in for example the u.s. have for a long time protected the free market on the basis of this thinking.

What I find to be the irony of it all is how it is possible to uphold such strong Christian values, or “values”, depending who you’re asking, in said country and at the same time debate politics on such social darwinistic-influenced ground. “Survival of the fittest” has, as everyone knows, become the strongest trademark for the evolution theory, a theory that several Christians to this day, refuses to recognise. Still, conservatives, who reckon themselves as the most Christian of them all, have no problem with identifying with the same ideology as long as it’s applied to humans!

What’s even more fascinating, is that the Christian belief, who underlines the importance of solidarity and assistanse to the poor and less able, apparantly can be so easily combined with such a ruthless and unsolidaric way of politics. It’s the biggest kind of irony, I think, and also one of the reasons for why I can never fully understand the u.s.a. How can somebody who claims to fight for Christian values like charity, good-heartedness and solidarity at the same time justify a system where those who happen to be born rich only gets richer at the expence of those who are not as lucky?