Capitalism: Tired as the Environment it Plundered (PART II)

PART II: A Briefer on Poverty and Hunger

One of the World Bank’s objectives include the statement “the encouragement of the development of productive facilities and resources in less developing countries”. One of its focus involve developing countries in the fields such as human development, which include education and health. Quite sardonically, in 2010, it reported that “Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.”

Such figures clearly point to inquiries on the hows and whys these came to be despite the promise of a better life (under Capitalism) and the promises of unprecedented economic integration (under Globalization). Is it really overpopulation that caused hunger or is it poverty to blame? As was learned in Part I of this discussion, since the elite (Capitalists) used education as a tool to undermine the real workings of this world, it is thus hidden from the majority of humanity that the real cause of poverty is overpopulation. This is the accepted reasoning since they controlled what and how we learn. In this way, the rich where always absolved from the responsibility of acting on the issue of poverty, and hence, hunger.

How common lands where distributed among the elite play an undeniable role in discussing the roots of poverty and hunger. In Africa, for instance, it is estimated that 80% of the population depend on arable land. But what if, as a result of privatization, these lands where taken away? Decades of liberalization (patterned after the West but not applicable to the Third World) have greatly decreased self-sufficiency among farmers, while at the same time doing nothing on how food can be economically available for them.

But are these lands acquired to produce more food per unit area and make them cheaper to acquire? History had it that there will always be a shortage of everything to keep costs high and profits going (growth – the universal word of Capitalism). Still, the primary reason for the shortage in arable land is their usage: for industrial production, mega-dam projects, beef production that benefit only the countries of the investors, for appropriation to golf courses, production of tobacco, and even the conversion offood to fuel (corn-to-ethanol and bio-fuel revolution in the early 2000s) as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Just in the case of tobacco production, the situation seems to suggest a discouraging picture. Tobacco production degrades the land while also requiring more wood to cure it. Outside of soil degradation, this industry puts stress on water resources by requiring fast-growing but water-hungry trees, such as eucalyptus. In addition, their production encourages more smoking which degrade people’s health and increase medical expenses.

The same situation applies for coffee production. Although the production of coffee has had economic benefits such as employment, their production increased after the 1960s, but coffee price also fell more than 50% since. As such, its production is not sustaining itself well. Coffee plantation necessitates millions of hectares of land, not to mention pesticides that degrade the soil (which contribute to irreversible erosion), as well as waste pulp which pollute the water ways.

Another major contributor to land misuse is the textile/garments industry. As if the reallocation of arable land is not enough, the textile industry is known to put a real strain on water resources. The production of garments require a very large quantity of water: the textile industry is the third largest consumer in the world after the paper and oil industries. In its production, textiles require more chemicals as well (dyeing process) and also more energy to heat it. Even bigger than consumption, waste water from the process pollute river systems on a grand scale (taking into account their rank in the worst polluting industries).

In the case of bio-fuels, a little bit of political blaming has dominated the discussion, especially on the issue of whether bio-fuels such as ethanol do significantly affect the price of food. Proponents of the fuel, particularly the United States and some Western countries report that their production contribute to less than 3% on the price of food. However, in a leaked World Bank report (The Guardian, July 2008), the World Bank reported that “Bio fuels have forced global food prices up by 75%”. In fact, in official statements, the United States has placed the blame on rising demand from developing countries, particularly India and China.

Decades of liberalization policies (which are export- and self-serving oriented) have also contributed to poverty and hunger. Under the guise of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), for-export crops (mostly to Northern Hemisphere destinations) have replaced staple crops, which in turn hurt local food supplies and where available, make them expensive. Encouraged by free-trade agreements and Globalization, liberalization also contributed to the removal of subsidies allocated for smaller-scale agriculture and farming. The removal of subsidies in turn make local players vulnerable which puts them at a disadvantaged position against gargantuan multinational corporations. In this way, this closed-cycle loop is complete; to quote Richard H. Robbins, “To understand why people go hungry you must stop thinking about food as something farmers grow for others to eat, and begin thinking about it as something companies produce for other people to buy.” And yet, as the West views subsidies as the main barrier against ‘free-trade’ which must be abolished, their agriculture are the most heavily subsidized in the world, especially in Europe. This double-standard does not only contribute to the problem of poverty and hunger, but also to trade practices, otherwise known as protectionist policies.

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