Within three days of the violence that has erupted recently in Gaza, reports from there were speaking about the big rush for staple food like bread and yet people having to return disappointed from bakeries and basic provision shops. Hungry people and children were then asked to be part of a mass evacuation. As people got busy with evacuation or thinking about any places of shelter, this distracted them and their limited resources further away from the basic need of finding, sharing and eating food.
Just a few days before, people here were living in difficult conditions no doubt but were still reasonably assured of their next meal or their next week’s meals, but suddenly a change came in their life which made them either highly deprived in terms of their basic needs including food, or else made the situation regarding the accessibility very uncertain or difficult.
In Afghanistan also the World Food Day has come in the middle of increasing difficulties as Afghanistan has been struck in very recent times by two big earthquakes which taken together have caused very serious harm. This has come on top of a serious humanitarian crisis existing already, including shortages of food for a large number of people. Clearly Afghanistan, which has regularly been appearing on the lists of hunger hot-spots, needs help to fight increasing hunger and food shortages. There can be no bigger help just now than to facilitate the transfer back of nearly seven billion dollars of its central bank funds which remain struck in the USA due to the actions taken by the USA government. Although some steps were announced last year to release a part of this to the Afghanistan central bank, latest reports indicate that these funds are still not available to the Afghanistan government for initiating any big steps to meet the basic needs of its people including food. If these funds are available and are used properly to end hunger and deprivation, then most of the present day hunger in Afghanistan can end.
On this World Food Day one must also think about the situation in Ukraine. Here is a country of very rich agricultural potential, a country which after meeting its own food needs can meet the needs of several other countries which have been experiencing food shortages. Yet war and greed have combined together to reduce not just the recent food producing and food providing potential of this country, but in addition the future longer-term potential has also been very adversely affected as a lot of rich and fertile agricultural land has been grabbed by big agribusiness interests as well as oligarchs, thereby diminishing the availability of farmland as a source of sustainable livelihood of small and medium level farmers, including family farms. A lot of land degraded by various wartime activities as well as war related destruction may also be lost to farming, or at least its productivity will be adversely affected.
These three examples most easily can be identified as these have been much in news in recent times, although this phenomenon of entirely avoidable hunger and food shortages being forced on people by man-made adverse factors can be seen in many more countries and regions. Similarly the potential of food production in sustainable and healthy ways is also being adversely affected by avoidable man-made factors in many different ways in many places.
Hence unfortunately many places are losing the already existing potential of producing food in self-reliant ways that existed till a few years back. There are many countries in Africa which have good agricultural potential for producing staple food but nevertheless experience very serious hunger over vast areas. At an even wider level, big agribusiness interests which are keen not on improving food production but mainly in increasing their profits and also their control and dominance over food production, are responsible for destroying sustainable, self-reliant and ecologically protective farming systems, and they have become a very important driving force in several countries. Their use of GM crops and GM technology to further their aims is one of the biggest threats for the world farming and food system.
In times of climate change and other serious environmental problems, there is clear and intense need for more protective farming policies. If only the serious mistakes can be remedied, the world can still move towards a farming ad food system based on justice for farm workers and farmers as well as towards environment protection and agro-ecology.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Man over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.