Tuesday 1 January 2008

Solutions to the food crisis: immediate demands and longer term goals

One of the drivers of the current global food crisis is the conversion of plant crops into biofuels. The global food crisis is impacting big time in New Zealand. People are hurting as they try and cope with food price hikes. As reported in the NZ Herald (26.4.08) an average trolley load of groceries has increased by 28% over the last year. Ominously this could just be the start of higher prices, with a number of factors pushing international food prices upwards. Including extreme weather conditions caused by climate change destroying food crops; a wave of speculation in basic commodities after the bursting of the housing bubble and global credit crunch; and the insane rush to turn plant crops into biofuels rather than food for people. Over the past 12 months food prices globally have gone up 40% on average. 37 countries have been forced to declare a food crisis. There have been food riots and protests around the world. Because of low pay and other rising costs (in particular transport and housing) the majority of us in New Zealand are becoming increasingly concerned. We’re struggling to stretch our budgets further. This explains why a GST off food petition launched by RAM is proving so popular. On stalls to date 80-90% people support this “common sense” demand (see RAM’s GST off food press release). Removing GST from food needs to become a broad campaign involving trade unions, community groups, churches and other grassroots organisations. The overwhelmingly positive reception to the petition so far shows that it’s possible to force the politicians in parliament to bow to popular will. As beneficial as removing GST off food would be to grassroots people, we also need to start thinking about longer term goals for securing cheap sustainable food production. Organic and localised food systems Increasingly social and eco-conscious scientists are advocating organic and localised food production as the solution to both the food crisis and climate change. One such scientist is Dr Mae-Wan Ho, co-founder of ISIS (Institute of Science In Society http://www.i-sis.org.uk/index.php). In a recent address to a conference in Crotia on organic agriculture, Mae-Wan made the compelling case for moving from industrial agriculture to localised organic food production. Mae-Wan advocates "Dream Farms" that use organic food production knowledge and technology as well as sustainable energy technologies like solar and wind. These Dream Farms would, according to research compiled by Mae-Wan, be capable of increasing yields by a factor of 1.3. Less land could be used to feed more people. At the same time greenhouse gas emissions would be slashed to nothing. Mae-Wan: “If we add anaerobic digestion of food and farm wastes in a zero-emission integrated food and energy producing Dream Farm that could boost the total energy savings to nearly 50 per sent and total ghg (greenhouse gas) savings to more than 50 percent. That means agriculture will compensate for the energy and ghg costs of other sectors. In our Dream Farms, we also incorporate other renewable energies at small and microscale levels: solar, wind, hydroelectric. That means we can potentially produce a large excess of energy to feed into the grid for other users. There will be no need for fossil energies whatsoever. Add to this the ghg savings of reduced transport of food, fertilisers and fossil fuels, the hallmark of industrialised agriculture, then you have a sustainable model for feeding everyone on the planet.

Mae-Wan's model diagram of a Dream Farm. She wants working Dream Farms are established around the world as sites for education and research.

The solutions to the food crisis and the threat of catastrophic climate change are there, but they will have to be fought for. Because the interlocked forces of state power, transnational food corporations and industrial agro-capitalists will resist any change that challenges their control of food production. A broad left party in Aotearoa, such as RAM is becoming the foundation for, can give leadership to the struggle for a necessary structural change in the way we produce food. Organic and localised food production using sustainable technologies (solar, wind, anaerobic digestion of wastes) at the point of production must be part of the vision of a broad based social and environmental movement of the 21st century. We need to translate the ideas being put forward by scientists like Mae-Wan into a sound social and ecological framework for Aotearoa.

To read Mae-Wan’s full speech go to http://www.i-sis.org.uk/foodWithoutFossilFuels.php

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