Biofuel – crime against humanity?

Imf and the world bank warn that the rising number of hungry people is already threatening the political stability of many countries

The first of these was the violent protests in mexico a year ago, when the price of corn rose so sharply that many people could hardly afford their tortillas. But currently there are uprisings and protests in many countries because of rising food prices. In haiti, the hunger riots of the last few days led to the ouster of the prime minister; in egypt, a general strike resulted in violent clashes with the police. There are also protests in bangladesh, philippines and indonesia and in several african countries. The international monetary fund and the world bank warn that the hunger riots could threaten the political stability of many countries. The un special rapporteur on the right to food criticizes the imf for its policy, citing the production of biofuel as one of the reasons for the fatal situation "crimes against humanity".

"Seven lost years" in the fight against hunger threatened because of high food prices. This was pointed out by the head of the world bank robert b. Zoellick pointed out at the joint spring meeting of the world bank and the international monetary fund (imf) in washington. "While some worry about how to fill their gas tanks, many others struggle to fill their stomachs", zoellick said at the conference on sunday. In fact, the struggle for survival for many people is becoming more difficult every day, because the poorest already have to spend more than 75% of their income on food.

And the development that zoellick showed for the food prices is fatal for many poor people. According to the report rising food prices: policy options and world bank response, the price of wheat has nearly doubled in the last three years, despite unprecedented production levels. The price of rice has reached an all-time high, rising by about 75% in the last two months alone. Food prices in general have skyrocketed 83% in the last three years.

According to estimates, about 100 million more people were in danger of falling into poverty, zoellick said, adding to the 850 million people who were starving. The world bank has now compiled a list of 33 countries where violent unrest is imminent, as is already happening in haiti, egypt, bangladesh and many other countries.

In haiti, the unrest had reached its most advanced stage so far. At least five people were shot during the protests. In the meantime, the parliament in port-au-prince has dismissed prime minister jacques edouard alexis, who was held responsible for the price increase. Earlier, president rene preval announced a 16 percent reduction in the price of rice. Reports of hunger protests have also come from egypt, burkina faso, cameroon, ivory coast, senegal, mauritania, ethiopia, the philippines, indonesia and pakistan.

Strong protests took place in bangladesh, where police have to protect rice camps. During a demonstration in the capital last saturday in dhaka, special police units used tear gas, batons and warning shots against demonstrators. Starving workers had begun looting the shops. Similar incidents are also reported from other cities in the country.

A dangerous situation is brewing for imf director dominique strauss-kahn. Many countries became unstable if food remained as expensive as it is now. "It is not only a humanitarian and economic ie, but also one that concerns democracy", said the imf chief. The high prices are not only destroying the economy of countries, but also threatening the political constitution of these countries.

Strauss-kahn said that staff members of the joint imf-world bank development committee have already described the production of so-called biofuel from food as a "humanitarian" ie "crimes against humanity". One who has been warning about this development for a long time ("a recipe for disaster"), is jean ziegler. Also the swiss un special rapporteur on the right to food uses a clear language.

According to ziegler, what is developing in many poor countries is the prelude to an era of the most intense conflicts: "these are riots of naked desperation of people who fear for their lives and go to the streets in fear of death." he also cites the production of fuel products as a factor in this development. The usa alone had subsidized the production of biofuel with six billion us dollars in the past year, in order to become more independent of oil. "Biofuel production today is a crime against humanity", ziegler sums up.

For the conversion of hundreds of millions of tons of corn, grain, rice into fuels, a "primary factor", to which were added other factors. Speculations on the stock exchanges are the main. One effect of the financial crisis, triggered by the real estate bubble in the u.S., was that speculative capital had sought new forms of investment and had moved onto food, which had an exacerbating effect on price development.

Criticism of the international monetary fund and speculation on foodstuffs

But ziegler also blames the imf for the "massacre" responsible. The imf had forced many poor countries to grow cotton, coffee, cocoa and other products of a highly industrialized agriculture through its structural adjustment programs, so that they could sell them on the world market and use the proceeds to service their loans. This has been at the expense of food sovereignty.

He therefore demands that the policy of the imf be radically changed. In the future, the money would have to go to agricultural projects that encourage small-scale farming and self-sufficiency. In addition the european union must stop its agricultural dumping, he demands: the european union finances the export of agricultural surplus and ruins thereby for example the african agriculture. "Because today, on any african market, you can buy german, french, belgian vegetables at half or a third of the price of equivalent local products."

The international speculation on food must also be stopped. Today, it is possible to buy entire future harvests with only five percent equity. If these limits on equity were raised to 30 or 40 percent, the risk of speculation would be greater, so speculation would at least slow down.

The imf and the world bank have called for an immediate allocation of $500 million (320 million euros) to the united nations world food program. The world bank also wants to increase its funding for agricultural development in poor countries from $800 million to $1 billion. But misallocation of funds also risks exacerbating dependency.

Hans-joachim preub, secretary general of welthungerhilfe, calls for a turnaround in development policy. "More funds must be made available for agriculture, for land development, so that roads can be built, so that agricultural extension can take place, so that irrigation systems can be built." of the 20% of development aid that was once used, only 3-4% is now used for this purpose. "This is far too little to advance this source of nourishment for many, many people."

He also warned against artificially cheapening food in response to the food crisis. This would lead to a loss of the small incentive that higher food prices provide for agriculture and force governments to rethink their policies. "In the short term, people need to be able to buy food through employment and social programs."

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