The war in Ukraine has worsened an already critical food crisis. Fingers point to grain supply shortages as an almost causal factor in global food insecurity, but the problem is much deeper and tied to the economic system that turns food into a profitable commodity.
Ukraine and Russia account for more than a third of world grain production. From the first shot, it was obvious that grain shipments and production would be seriously disrupted.
The food crisis did not start with the war in Russia. Famine, staple food shortages and food insecurity developed alongside the deeper crisis of capitalism.
Acute hunger levels – the number of people who cannot meet their short-term food consumption needs – rose by almost 40 million last year. War has always been the main driver of extreme hunger and now the Russian-Ukrainian war is adding to the risk of hunger and starvation for millions more people.
What had always been a problem became even more acute starting with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008. In previous years, multinational corporations had taken control of global food production.
One billion people in the world work in agriculture and food production. Only 10 multinational corporations – Nestlé, Coca Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez – control the production and distribution of the world’s food.
These companies determine what should be grown, how the land will be used and how the production will be distributed. Above all, it is profit driven.
GFC has led to a massive reduction in profits, leading to less investment and increased poverty in the Global South.
World Bank (WB) figures show that global food production rose steadily for decades but, after the economic collapse that followed GFC production, fell to 1965 figures.
The food crisis is global. Obviously this affects those in the developing world, but the poor in the rich West are getting poorer and food insecurity is becoming a sign of this crisis.
Food insecurity is a characteristic of poverty. In the year before the pandemic, 15 million children in the United States lived in poverty. One in six Australian children lives in poverty.
People’s ability to feed themselves depends on the health of capitalism. Budding investors can trade in a food and beverage futures market. The morality of such an investment is appalling, but neither is buying stock in companies like Raytheon that manufacture weapons for the armies of the world.
The raison d’etre of the capitalist economy is simple: if it’s profitable, it’s good.
The global food crisis shows the reverse side of such logic. During the GFC, food prices soared. Things calmed down briefly before spiraling back into 2011. During the pandemic, we saw another crisis in food production, distribution and prices. Now there is war in Ukraine.
Absolute global poverty had fallen, but since the GFC the trend has reversed. Oxfam reported in April that due to rising global debt, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there could well be more than 800 million people around the world suffering from acute hunger by the end of the day. end of the year.
The problem is so big that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) fears it could lead to political instability.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in April that for many countries the food crisis is on top of a debt crisis.
“Since 2015, the share of low-income countries in or near debt distress has doubled, from 30% to 60%. For many, debt restructuring is an urgent priority… We know that hunger is the greatest solvable problem in the world. A looming crisis is the time to act decisively – and resolve it,” she said.
The IMF may call for “decisive” action, but the IMF facilitates the growth of capitalism and helps ensure that nation states remain in the grip of capitalism. An engine of capitalism, such as the IMF, is unlikely to address the causes of the problem.
Meanwhile, the war is raging and, with it, the problem of food, hunger and misery is getting worse. The establishment media will continue to mistakenly focus on the war as the only factor causing such hardship.
That Ukraine mined its ports, making grain transportation virtually impossible is beside the point. Whether or not Russian grain is affected by embargoes, or blocking exports, is beside the point.
The fact remains that the war still aggravates a crisis of capitalist production.
The release of global food stocks, increased supply, and serious attempts to end the war rather than prolong it are all necessary.
International institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have done nothing to alleviate the global debt crisis. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen fears inflation “is reaching the highest levels seen in decades. Soaring food and fertilizer prices are putting pressure on households around the world, especially the poorest. And we know that food crises can trigger social unrest.
Yellen is right to be concerned. After all, the crimes of capitalism make social unrest inevitable.