Saturday, 26 November 2011

Of Muddy Carrots and Optimum Population

Recently I heard, within a few hours, three snippets from radio programs concerning food. Firstly a British farmer complained that he could not produce food without government subsidies because consumers would not pay the prices that he would charge, “They would rather spend money on computers than food” He alleged.

Later the Radio told me that Africans were dying as they trekked across deserts to a UN feeding camp, they had no food. .

Finally another Brit, manager of an electrical goods shop, lamented lack of demand, people felt insecure, so they were spending all their money on food.

This illustrates how complex and contradictory the politics and economics of food have now become. In some parts of the developed world, medical conditions associated with overconsumption of processed foods, such as obesity and diabetes are epidemic, and paradoxically in some cases are doing most damage amongst poor and minority groups in these societies. When they are able to afford it, some developed world consumers attempt to seek alternatives to mass manufactured food, seeking out alternatives such as organics sometimes via “alternative“ outlets such as “farmers’” markets. But whilst a TV producer living in Kensal Green may be able to afford a bunch of organic carrots with real mud on it, poorer consumers on the nearby housing estates may be making do with processed food.

In other parts of the world, industrialised overdevelopment elsewhere, is putting more and more pressure on the availability of agricultural land. Some of this is simply due to the demands of developed world consumers for fresh (often airfreighted) food and even cut flowers all the year round. Then some rich nations, like Japan and Saudi Arabia which have relatively little agricultural land of their own, are buying up large swathes of land in poorer countries in an attempt to assure their future food supplies. Other nations and corporations are attempting to assure future fuel supplies as well by buying up land to grow crops used for biofuels. Such neo-imperialist tactics compound the pressures being put on agricultural land and the food resources available to the original inhabitants.

More pressure too arises from climate change, changes in ocean temperatures due to emissions from industrialised nations could well be affecting climate cycles, delaying or eliminating rainy seasons. Groups such as African pastoralists and farmers, who may have previously co-existed relatively peaceably, are now increasingly being forced into conflict over scarcer and scarcer amounts of fertile land. Climate wars and population displacements are already happening. Even when the consequences are not so immediately extreme land shortages may be placing strain on the environment as forests are cleared for farms. Some ameliorations, such as introducing agricultural methods similar to permaculture may be feasible in some regions, but so far these are not being introduced on a sufficiently large scale to have a marked effect on these problems.

Seen in this light, population pressure on land is, it is true, an exacerbating factor, but not the root cause and when pressure groups in the developed world harp on obsessively about this issue, they sound the same note as some reactionary land owners did during the Irish potato famine, blaming the poor (and perhaps their immorality) for poverty and want and focusing solutions onto the poor rather than onto the rich and inequality which really cause the problem


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