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Econ101_The Political Economy of Food

Econ101_The Political Economy of Food

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Published by Charles Salazar

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Published by: Charles Salazar on Oct 11, 2008
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Tesar, Jenny. (1992). Food and Water: Threats, Shortages, and Solutions. USA:Blackbirch Graphics, Inc.World Food Day (October 16) – an event sponsored jointly by the Food and AgricultureOrganization, national governments and private groups. The purposes of this event are tomake people more aware of the world food problem and to encourage them to work toward eliminating hunger and malnutrition.People’s foods come from three sources: agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing.In many countries, most cows, pigs and other animal farms are raised in confined areas.Calves raised for “milk-fed” veal spend their entire lives in small crates. Theyhave no opportunity to be outdoors, exercise or even see other calves. They are fed aliquid diet that is low in iron. The animals become anemic. This retards muscledevelopment, creating the pale, tender meat favored by consumers.Chickens live indoors in tiny cages, crammed so closely together that they cannotstretch their wings. To prevent the chickens from pecking one another, the tips of their  beaks are removed.Sweden-regulations encourage the concept that animal farms should have anatural life as possible. Pigs are entitled to straw beds. Battery cages were banned by1999. All farm animals must be fed a fully nutritious diet.Disappearing FarmlandAccording to FAO, only 11 % of earth’s land area is suitable for agriculture.Poor farming practices, increasing rate of soil erosion due to farming and other human activities, salinization, waterlogging, won-out soil, monoculture, overstocking orangelands and pollution are the causes of soil degradationDavid, Cristina. The Philippines.The average annual growth rate of agricultural sector between 1955 and 1982 was 4.4 %.This has been significantly higher than in other middle income countries.Agriculture’ share in gross value-added declined from only 30 % to 22% between 1955and 1982.Political Economy of FoodIn the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the term "political economy" referred toconcerns classified under the discipline of economics. In the twentieth century Marxistand Social Democratic critics of the emergent discipline, who believed it was blind tosystematic social inequalities, primarily used the term. In the twenty-first centuryinequality, both national and international, continued as thehallmark of any work  identified with the tradition of political economy.
 
Three kinds of work typically are classified under the rubric of political economy of food. The most widely recognized is political economy of hunger, especially the work of the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. A second group concentrates on food fights between great powers, such as the conflicts between Japan and the United States over rice imports intoJapan. The third group focuses on the development of underdevelopment, that is, processes by which poor nations are kept poor.Political Economy of FaminesSen and his associates developed arichlyempirical research agenda showing that faminesoccur not because of too many mouths to feed but because the poor cannot access food.Famines in the late twentieth century occurred in sparsely populated regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, not in densely populated China, India, or Bangladesh. Although populations continued to grow dramatically in India and Bangladesh, those nations lastexperienced famines in 1947 and 1974 respectively, the dates they became independent.This implies that where political will exists famines can be averted by following "famine codes." Developed in British India in the 1880s, famine codes are both early warningsystems and suggested countermeasures, such as wage employment in public works.Famine codes are only effective in the presence of a relativelycoherentpublicadministration and transportation and communication infrastructures. Ethiopia, Somalia,and Afghanistan lacked these elements. The lastcatastrophicfamine in China, which probably killed about 20 million people between 1959 and 1961, occurred in the contextof a disintegrating communication system within the Chinese Communist Party.Why repeated famines in sub-Saharan Africa? The immediate problems of eastern sub-Saharan Africa are civil war and the dispersal of the rural population, which is 18 persons  per squarekilometer (8 for Somalia), compared to 228 for India, 681 for Bangladesh, and104 for Nigeria. In adispersedpopulation the transportation system is underdeveloped and cannot support relief efforts. Dispersed settlements also provide little scope for  building efficiencies in terms of the social division of labor and market development.Furthermore in much of this part of Africa the primary form of agriculture is slash-and- burn cultivation, which is a fragile system of  sustenancein the first place. Yet such an extensive approach is essential to survival on land of some of the poorest qualityanywhere in the world. On the African continent 60 percent of the area has a highexpectation of drought, and only 30 percent of the land is suited to rain-fed production of millet, sorghum, andmaize(Drèze et al., 1995). Much of the potentially good land is exposed to endemic sleeping sickness that affects both livestock and humans.Most peoplestarve  because they are either unemployed or the price of the agricultural commodity they sell is so low they cannot afford enough food in exchange. If the latter isthe cause, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, producing more cheap food in the first worldfor export to the poor nations drives down prices further and creates moremisery.Food Fights
 
Geopolitics have been central to the highly visible food fights between the affluentnations of the European Union, the United States, and Japan. In the 1940s the UnitedStates and the European nations assumed that agriculture would be relatively protectedfor reasons of reconstruction following World War II. But once Western Europeanfarmers revived, the U.S. government defended its share of the domestic agriculturalmarket with the 1952 Defense Production Act, which banned the importation of anythingfrom Danish cheese to Turkish sultana raisins (Friedmann, 1993). By 1975, when theEuropean community had become a net exporter of wheat, the transatlantic trade conflict had become significantly hotter. In 1992 the Common Agricultural Policy of theEuropean Union introduced support for domestic oilseedproduction and brought the transatlantic cousins to the  brink of a trade war. Subsequently the most visible fights centered on hormone-injected beef and bananas.Similarly during the military occupation of Japan, the United States sought to create asocial base for the democratic system it was seeking to impose. The United Statesallowed Japanese protection of farm incomes both for the sake of recovery and in theinterest of strengthening Japanese democracy. However, once the Japanese economy wasindependent it inevitably generated a conflict with the United States over markets andfarm subsidies. This time instead of centering on wheat, maize, dairy products, andsoybeansas with Europe, the conflict concerned rice, citrus, beef, and soybeans.Eventually the parties compromised on Japanese national sufficiency in rice anddependence on the United States for soybeans, nonrice grains, and beef. Protected riceremained anirritantin U.S.–Japanese relations in the twenty-first century.Development of UnderdevelopmentPolitical economists of underdevelopment concentrate on a segment of the internationaltrade in food products that isdistortedto benefit first world nations. Their basic argumentis that free trade in food products never has existed. The U.S. government, among themost ideologically committed proponents of free trade, paid American farmers $71.5 billionin agricultural subsidies between 1996 and 2000. While pressuring third worldnations to remove subsidies to their farmers, the first world nations heavilysubsidize their capital-intensive agricultural systems. International trade in agricultural produce isshaped not by comparative advantage but by comparative access to subsidies (Watkins,1996). Highly subsidized first world agricultural surpluses have created a seriousdisincentivefor poor farmers in the developing world.Furthermore it is argued that these unfair trade practices serve the interests of largecorporations in the first world, such as General Foods, as illustrated by the case of instantcoffee, the  penultimateproduct of a commodity chain that begins with green coffee  beans. Coffee is grown mostly in third world countries and is consumed in the first world.Most value-added parts of roasting,grinding, and packaging are done in first world countries. At the end of World War II the market was dominated by first worldcorporations, but major producers of green coffee, such as Brazil, sought "forwardintegration," from coffee to instant coffee, to appropriate more value-added parts of thechain. Brazilian prices were about 20 percent lower, and the quality of the powder was

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