While modern technology has increased worldwide food production and raised per capita income, millions of landless peasants in Third World countries face starvation and malnutrition.
Prime agricultural lands in Third World countries have increasingly been converted to the production of cash export crops by vast transnational agribusiness firms. While this succeeded in increasing exports and ameliorated balance of payments problems for underdeveloped countries, the benefits have not accrued to everyone. Multinational corporations increased their profits, taking advantage of cheap labor resources abroad. Foreign governments and the landed few also benefited from the arrangements. But peasant farmers were driven from their subsistence lands when the multinationals arrived. New technology production did not offer enough employment opportunities to compensate for the massive displacements. Those who managed to find seasonal work in agribusiness were not paid enough to cover their subsistence food needs. Vast migrations of hungry peasants fled to the cities where employment opportunities were not much better. The specter of urban poverty, filth, and slums proliferated.
As the global food monopolies expanded their empires, an interdependency of national economies was established. All countries are now so dependent on the international supermarket that they are dangerously vulnerable to fluctuations in the world food supply and to the threat of food embargoes. Food is increasingly. being used as a weapon, as in the U.S. denial of grain shipments to Russia following the latter’s invasion of Afghanistan. The loss of self-sufficiency in food production thus threatens the national security of food importing nations.
Most Third World countries have been converted from self-sufficient economies to food-dependent economies. In Brazil, for example, black beans, the former protein staple of the peasant diet, are now a scarce commodity. Lands were converted to the production of soybeans for cattle feed, and now black beans must be imported from other countries at prices beyond the means of poor Brazilians.
Advertising campaigns abroad by the multinationals also have been responsible for significant reductions in nutritional levels of native diets. Studies in West Bengal have shown that poor families were buying advertised baby food at exorbitant prices although they could buy local cow’s milk at much lower cost. Advertising campaigns in Mexico are credited with increasing peasant consumption of white bread with a corresponding decline in consumption of the more nutritious native corn tortilla.
Unless the global food inequities are subjected to serious public debate, scrutiny , and reform, worldwide social revolt is said to be inevitable: The dereliction of the news media in reporting the causes and scope of this global crisis qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
The Nation, Feb. 9, 1980, “The Profits of Hunger,” by Richard J. Barnet.