Erle Frayne Argonza
Good afternoon, Fellows of Planet Earth!
The FAO just concluded the global food summit recently in Europe, and many concerned fellows are asking whether there will be an overflowing of food in our plates after this conference. For the simple folks, the double query is whether there will be food in their plate, and whether food prices can go down a bit to alleviate the hurt on their pockets.
You see, when folks’ pockets are in pain at the same time that food prices are prohibitive and food availability insecure, chances are that they’d go out rioting. We saw the rioting take burst forth in at least thirty-seven (37) countries across the globe.
So, after the FAO summit, is food guaranteed for everyone else (food security) at fairly affordable price (fair trade)? And, may it be added, without those anarchic riots that go with food-related protests? Whether these answers were responded to in the summit isn’t really clear after all. It seems that the food body ended with more questions to answer than for a reduction of those that already hound the food sector.
Let’s take the issues one at a time. First of all, the food prices went up sky high couples of weeks back due largely to predatory financiers’ speculations on the food commodity futures. And this speculation was made possible largely due to the liberalized currency, financial and monetary markets, thanks to the GATT-Uruguay Rounds and the preceding liberalization efforts that began way back 1971 yet.
That’s why, when tasked to re-draw the policy architecture for the food sector in the Philippines, this expert, acting as project consultant for a national NGO coalition here, recommended the strict enforcement of monetary and financial control measures as part of ‘fair trade’ policies. Volatile currency and financial markets redound to food insecurity in the short run, as the facts now reveal. (See the book E. Argonza, Fair Trade and Food Security: Framework and Policy Architecture, Kaisampalad, 2005/08.)
Next comes those affecting the backward and forward linkages of the food sector. The monopoly of patents (note Monsanto case), inefficient production technologies, pest management issues, and other related issues continue to pester the supply side. Hoarding and smuggling pester the sector on the demand side. Then, there is the high protection walls of Northern economies on the sector, trade barriers that are nowhere near to being addressed.
There are much more issues to reflect about. Name a contentious issue, and find out whether this was answered by the summit. FAO summits are now turning to be more like the WTO meetings that ended in fiasco. With fiasco comes violent protests as expected. Incidentally, we can’t put protests on our plates to nourish our bodies.
[Writ 11 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]