An article I recently received from Patricia Khan (How Global Investors Make Money Out of Hunger, by Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith, published by Speigel Online) is an excellent treatment of the effects of financialisation of world food commodity markets on driving up food prices. It marshals evidence from several authortitative sources to show that the recent spikes in food prices have little to do with the reasons one often sees in the media, like population growth, demand fron China and India, biofuels, climate change etc. but rather to the entry of the banks and other financial entities to the futures markets following deregulation in 1999 and relaxation of banks’ equity requirements in 2004.

I was particularly struck by the statistic from FAO that 98% of futures contracts do not lead to actual deliveries, that the bulk of the contracts are sold by the banks etc prior to maturation, and by the UNCTAD finding that futures prices are driving up present prices, rather than vice versa as it ought to be. I am also struck by the emergence of “land grabbing” in resource-rich African countries by investors exporting food to the rich countries, and by the way in which commercial industrial agriculture has several deleterious effects and that the technical consensus is that food security for the world’s hungry should be based on sustainable agricultural practices carried out by small farmers–an issue which has been addressed by several writers on this blog.

While this is probably familiar to many readers, I am concerned as to whether it has percolated into the thinking of our key decision-makers and the general regional public. Earlier this year we were informed that a CARICOM Common Agricultural Policy has been adopted, but there are,   several questions that arise:

1. What is the status of the Caricom Common Agricultural Policy? Is it receiving the urgency it deserves from decision-makers? Are stakeholders satisfied that the implementation arrangements and mechanisms will result in its timely and effective implementation?

2. How has the recent (2011) spike in global food commodity prices impacted the cost and availabilty of food in CARICOM countries? How many people in CARICOM have been pushed below the poverty line, or the hunger line (if there is such a concept) by the rise in food prices since the beginning of 2011?

3. What steps have CARICOM governments taken to support internationally the calls for (a) regulation of global commodity markets and (b) a transactions tax, to curb speculation? (see article).

4. What steps have CARICOM governments taken, or are taking, or should be taking, to prevent “land-grabbing” in countries like Guyana and Belize, to ensure that the food needs of the people of the region are the first call on the land resources of the region?

5. What steps have CARICOM governments taken, or are taking, or should be taking, to provide land, credit, R&D and other incentives to small farmers to carry out sustainable agricultural practices for domestic food production in the region?

6. And finally, who is championing these issues in the Caribbean media? Is it getting the attention it deserves and is the regional public sufficiently seized of its importance? Anf if the answer is “no”, what can be done to remedy this situation?

Norman

In recent years, the financial markets have discovered the huge opportunities presented by agricultural commodities. The consequences are devastating, as speculators drive up food prices and plunge millions of people into poverty. But investors care little about the effects of their deals in the real world.

More at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,783654,00.html,  

Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy Brief No 2 2011 CARICOM Secretariat