Javad Heydarian, Walden Bello: Reflections on Global Poverty and Hunger

© Walden Bello
© Walden Bello

Javad Heydarian is an Iranian political analyst, columnist and commentator on international relations and Middle Eastern affairs. He holds a B.A in Political Science and is currently taking Masters in International Studies in the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

Walden Bello is an Akbayan Representative in the 14th Congress of Republic of the Philippines. He is a senior analyst of Focus on the Global South and Professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines. As a human rights and peace campaigner, academic, environmentalist and journalist, he has made a major contribution to the international case against corporate-driven globalisation. Bello was awarded South Korea's Suh Sang Don Prize in 2001. In 2003, he was given the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.

From 2006 to 2008, an abrupt change in the prices of basic commodities pushed millions of people into poverty and hunger. This resulted in food riots and immense political agitation in many developing countries. The panic, caused by sudden increase in the prices of food products, pushed many countries to adopt defensive emergency measures in order to manage domestic food shortage. While China and Argentina resorted to taxes and quotas to discourage agricultural exports, rice exports were simply banned by Egypt, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This was followed by the global financial crisis, which not only accentuated the precarious nature of the world economy but also exposed the inherent follies of a capitalist global economy.  

What lies at the heart of global hunger, poverty, and lack of food security in many developing countries is the very structure of the current corporate-led global capitalist system.  In order to understand this we must first deconstruct the ‘myth of capitalism’, which claims that only a corporatist agriculture on an industrial scale could sufficiently meet - through ‘efficient’ means - the daily agricultural and dietary needs of the world’s growing multi-billion population. 

To capital, instead of the real needs of the people, profit rates determine investment and production patterns - this is where the logic of capitalism is incongruent with the vision of eliminating extreme poverty and hunger. Despite the fact that it was widely acknowledged in the 1990s that there was enough food to feed seven to eight billion people, hunger and malnutrition persisted due to income inequality and unequal access to food – thanks to capitalism. 

The international political economy of hunger is directly linked to several factors that are inherent to capitalism: a tendency towards over-production and over-consumption, over-emphasis on pursuing profit-oriented export crops; mass scale production of agro/bio-fuels, vulnerability to external shocks (e.g., abrupt increase in energy prices), the conversion of farmland into urban and real estate; precarious interdependence among globally integrated chains of production and distribution, and speculation in commodity futures. 

The Perils of Capitalism

Based on its inherent characteristics, the reigning capitalist structure is not only highly vulnerable to sudden shocks and a ‘perfect storm’ – as witnessed in the recent years – but, it is also gradually putting millions of people around the world at the risk of greater hunger and poverty. 

In an unceasing attempt to maximize profit, the move into commodity futures followed by a commodities bubble burst triggered a 71 percent rise in Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) food price index during just fifteen months between the end of 2006 and March 2008, and its decline after July 2008.[i] 

According to an exposé by the Guardian, US and EU agro-fuels policies were responsible for three quarters of the 140 percent increase in food prices between 2002 and February 2008.[ii] 

The ‘efficiency’, ecological-friendliness, and quality of capitalist modes of food production are also under question. For instance, Daniel Imhoff has noted that in the United States, “the average food item journeys some 1,300 miles before becoming part of a meal. Fruits and vegetables are refrigerated, waxed, colored, irradiated, fumigated, packaged, and shipped. None of these processes enhances food quality….”[iii] Furthermore, he exclaimed, “10 calories of energy are required to create just one calorie of food energy.”[iv]   

The shift to agro-fuels is increasingly transforming more and more agricultural lands – destined for food production – into bio-diesel farms. Not only is this disrupting the ecological balance, but is also threatening food security for billions of people around the world. It comes as no surprise that Brazil, an agro-fuel superpower, is currently among the most polluting countries in terms of carbon emissions. 

Disarming the South

The reversal of agricultural development in poor countries  - under the auspices of the IMF and the World Bank – has severely hampered their ability to ensure food self-sufficiency and alleviate widespread hunger and poverty.

In the early 1980s, a debt crisis led to the collapse of the Import-Substitution Industrialization (ISI) strategy in the developing world. As a result, poor countries were forced to adopt policies prescribed by the vanguards of neo-liberalism – the International Monetary Fund and World Bank - and subsequently shifted to an Export-Oriented Industrialization (EOI) to meet their economic objectives. Under the IMF and World Bank-imposed Structural Adjustment Program policies, more than ninety developing countries were forced to withdraw their direct support – through subsidies and other forms of incentives – from the agricultural sector, and de-regulate their domestic economy. The results have been disastrous: first, with the reduction of the role of the state in the economy – traditionally a central economic player - a limited and feeble private sector was forced to fill-up a huge vacuum, only to fail. Second, by moving towards an increasingly export-oriented agricultural production the poor countries were disastrously subjected to the whims of international markets. Burdened by heavy debt, and defanged in terms of policy maneuvering poor countries experienced rapid declines in their agricultural output and suffered from deterioration in their overall macroeconomic condition. As a result, the twin evils of hunger and poverty strengthened their grip on these countries.

In October 2008, an independent evaluation team from the World Bank reaffirmed the blunders of its policy recommendations. It states that, “ [World] Bank policies in the 1980s and 1990s that pushed African governments to cut or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, decontrol prices and privatize may have improved fiscal discipline but did not accomplish much for food production….”[v] 

Meanwhile, the developed countries continued to support their agricultural sector: from $367 billion in 1995, the same year the World Trade Organization came into effect, the total amount of agricultural subsidies provided by the developed-country governments rose to a $388 billion in 2004.[vi] Farmers in the United States and EU are lavished with subsidies amounting to $16-18 billion per year. According to ActionAid, this is putting around 260 million people from the developing world – mainly farmers displaced by cheaper imports – at risk of hunger.

A Viable Alternative

Only through a genuine move towards local-based non-corporate modes of agricultural production will we be able to ensure a significant reduction in global hunger and poverty especially in the developing world.  

In fact, small-scale agriculture could be a much more effective response to the social and environmental crises we constantly face, than capitalist agriculture. Peasants and farmers continue to be the backbone of global food production; they constitute a third of the world’s population and two-thirds of the world’s food producers.[vii]

In Latin America, about 17 million peasant production units account for 51 percent of maize, 77 percent of the beans, and 61 percent of domestically-consumed potatoes, total production. Africa has about 33 million small farms - accounting for 80 percent of all farms in the region – that are still responsible for the production of a significant amount of basic food crops. In Asia, the majority of more than 200 million small rice farmers make up the bulk of the region’s rice production.[viii] 

According to Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls, “research shows that small farms are more productive than large farms if total output is considered rather that yield from a single crop. Small integrated farming systems that produce grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder and animal products outproduce yield per unit of single crops such as corn (monocultures) on large-scale farms.”

The case of Netherlands is also very illustrative. Dutch agriculture became a global leader in the period 1850 to 1956, when the numbers of small farmers grew in absolute terms and there was a significant movement towards “repeasantization” as capitalist modes of production were supplanted with labor-intensive methods.[ix]

The Road to the Future

The recent unraveling of the international capitalist economic order has exposed its inherent weaknesses and contradictions, but, more importantly, it has introduced an opportunity for exploring alternative models of economic development and food production. This is the context within which we should move towards ‘food sovereignty’ – a policy framework that advocates the right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems beyond the clasp of international market forces.  

Deglobalization, emphasizing participation in an international economy that helps build local economic capacity rather than destroy it, is the way forward in the attainment of food sovereignty. This entails:

1.  Prioritizing production for domestic needs, rather than for export purposes, as the center of gravity for agriculture. This involves the enshrining of the principle of subsidiarity in encouraging production on the community level;

2.  A judicious use of trade policy in order to ensure the sustainability of local agriculture against corporate-subsidized artificially cheap imported commodities;

3.  A genuine pursuit of social justice by carrying out the long postponed measures of land redistribution, including urban reform, to revitalize the domestic market and precipitate the creation of local financial resources for investment;

4.  Moving away from an obsession with ‘growth’ towards an emphasis on quality of life and ecological balance. It should be followed by the development of technologies that balance environmental sustainability and agricultural productivity;

5.  Subjecting strategic economic decisions to democratic processes. This ensures the primacy of democratic choice as the basis for crafting and implementing policies that would affect the entire community. Moreover, this entails a greater monitoring of the state and private sector by the civil society; and

6.  A movement away from “property complex” towards a “mixed economy”, wherein community cooperatives, private and state enterprises co-exist, to the exclusion of transnational corporations. 

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[i] Peter Wahl, “Food Speculation: The Main Factor of the Price Bubble in 2008,” (Berlin, WEED, 2009).

[ii]  Aditya Chakrobortty, “Secret Report: Biofuels Caused Food Crisis,” The Guardian, July 3, 2008. 

[iii] Vandana Shiva, “The Suicide Economy,” ZNET, April 2004. 

[iv] Daniel Imhoff, “Community Supported Agriculture,” in Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, eds., The Case Against the Global Economy (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1996), p.428. 

[v] “World Bank Neglects African Farming, Study Says,” New York Times, October 15, 2007 

[vi] OECD Agricultural Trade Statistics.

[vii] Wayne Roberts, cited in Philip McMicheal, “Food Sovereignty in Movement: The Challenge to Neo-liberal Globalization,” draft, Cornell University, 2008

[viii] Miguel Altieri, “Small Farms as a Planetary Ecological Asset: Five Key Reasons Why We Should Support the Revitalization of Small Farms in the Global South,” Food First, 2008.

[ix] Jan Douve van der Ploeg, The New Peasantries: Struggles for Autonomy and Sustainability in an Era of Globalization (London: Earthscan, 2008), pp. 46-47.

Buchtipp: Walden Bello: Politik des Hungers

Walden Bello: Politik des Hungers

Assoziation A; ISBN 978-3-935936-91-0

Walden Bello ist Professor für Soziologie an der Universität der Philippinen, Geschäftsführer von „Focus on the Global South“ und Präsident von „Freedom from Debt Coalition“. Der Globalisierungskritiker ist Träger des Alternativen Nobelpreises. Er ist im Vorstand von “Food First”, “Transnational Institute” und „Greenpeace South East Asia“. Walden Bello ist National Chair Emeritus and National Chair der Partei “Akbayan” auf den Philippinen. Der Globalisierungskritiker hat 2005 „De-Globalisierung. Widerstand gegen die neue Wel­tordnung“, herausgegeben von Oliver Nachtwey und Peter Strotmann, VSA-Verlag, 2005, veröffentlicht.

Mehr als eine Milliarde Menschen leiden an Unterernährung und Hunger. Ganz offensichtlich kann der Kapitalismus seine Versprechen auf "Entwicklung" und Wohlstand für die allermeisten Menschen dieser Welt nicht einlösen, so Walden Bello. Zwischen 2006 und 2008 stiegen die Preise an, wodurch Grundnahrungsmittel für eine große Anzahl Menschen unbezahlbar wurden. 2008 stellten die Vereinten Nationen fest: "Der Preis des jährlichen Nahrungsmittelimportkorbes der LDCs (der am wenigsten entwickelten Länder) hat sich gegenüber dem Jahr 2000 verdreifacht". 2007/08 kam es weltweit zu Aufständen gegen den zügellosen Anstieg der Lebensmittelpreise. In Bangladesch, Kamerun, Elfenbeinküste, Ägypten, Indien, Indonesien, Somalia, Usbekistan, Jemen und in vielen anderen Ländern gingen die Menschen auf die Straße. Sie protestierten gegen die Politik des Hungers, die über drei Jahrzehnte hinweg - den Vorgaben von IWF, Weltbank und Entwicklungshilfeinstitutionen folgend - die kleinbäuerliche Landwirtschaft zerstörte, der Verarmung Vorschub leistete und die Menschen in die Slums der Megastädte trieb.

Walden geht auf die unterschiedlichen Ursachen der Nahrungsmittelkrise ein: Scheitern der armen Länder bei der Entwicklung des Agrarsektors, Umwandlung von Ackerland in städtisches Grundeigentum, Klimawandel und Abzug von Getreide und Zuckerrohr aus der Nahrungsmittelproduktion zwecks Her­stellung von Agrotreibstoffen und insbesondere durch Spekulationen an den Warenterminbörsen. Doch die zentrale Ursache für die steigenden Nahrungsmittelpreise ist für ihn die als Strukturanpassung bekannte massive Neuausrichtung der Agrarpolitik: Programme, die Weltbank und Währungsfonds 90 Entwicklungs- und Schwellenländern über 20 Jahre lang aufgenötigt haben. Ebenso hat die von der Welthandelsorganisation WTO beaufsichtigte Liberalisierung des Welthandels zur gegenwärtigen Ernährungskrise beigetragen. 

Walden Bello geht auf den Prozess der Verdrängung der bäuerlichen durch die kapitalistische Landwirt­schaft ein, die vor 400 Jahren einsetzte. Die Spur der Zerstörung, die die Strukturanpassungsprogramme hinterlassen haben, zeigt er an den Beispielen Mexiko, an der Reiskrise auf den Philippinen und der Zerstörung der afrikanischen Landwirtschaft. 

W. Bello geht der Frage nach, wieso die Mexikaner, also die Bewohner eines Landes, in dem Mais erstmals angebaut wurde, überhaupt in die Lage geraten konnte, von Maisimporten aus den Vereinigten Staaten abhängig zu sein. Zu den negativen Auswirkungen der Strukturanpassung kamen noch die verheerenden Aus­wirkungen des Nordamerikanischen Freihandelsabkommen NAFTA auf den Maissektor: US-ameri­kanischer Mais strömte in Massen ins Land, die Maispreise sanken um die Hälfte und der mexikanische Maissektor geriet in eine tiefe Krise. Mexiko ist für den Autor Beweisstück A in seiner Anklage gegen den Neoliberalismus. 

Dass die gegenwärtige globale Ernährungskrise in erster Linie auf die an den Prinzipien des Freihandels ausgerichtete Umstrukturierung der Landwirtschaft in den Entwicklungsländern zurückgeht, zeigt Bello am Beispiel von Reis: wie beim mexikanischen Mais liegt für ihn das große Rätsel in der Tatsache, dass eine Reihe einstmals selbstversorgender reiskonsumierender Länder mittlerweile stark von Importen abhängen. Die Philippinen sind für den Autor ein düstereres Beispiel dafür, wie die neoliberale Umstrukturierung der Wirtschaft aus einem Nettoexporteur von Nahrungsmitteln einen Nettoimporteur machen kann. 

Ein Kapitel widmet sich der Zerstörung der afrikanischen Landwirtschaft: 25% seiner Nahrungsmittel werden importiert, fast alle Länder auf dem Kontinent sind Nettoimporteure von Nahrungsmitteln. Walden Bello geht auf die Ursachen ein. 

Ein anderes Kapitel widmet sich dem Thema Bauern, Partei und Agrarkrise in China. Ein Land mit nur 8% des weltweit verfügbaren Bodens, welches 20% der Weltbevölkerung ernährt und dabei immer noch einen Selbstversorgungsgrad von 90% aufweist. Für Walden Bello hat die gesteigerte chinesische Nachfrage nach Nahrungsmitteln kaum etwas zur Nahrungsmittelkrise beigetragen. Die zunehmend "fleischlastige" chinesische Ernährungsweise stellt jedoch eine Umweltbedrohung dar: Immer größere südamerikanische Bodenflächen werden in Sojabohnenplantagen umgewandelt, um die chinesische Tierzucht mit den nötigen Futtermitteln zu versorgen. 

Ein Kapitel widmet sich den Agrotreibstoffen und ihrem Einfluss auf die Nahrungsmittelkrise. Bello beschäftigt sich mit der Sichtweise der USA, der EU, Brasiliens und der Rolle transnationaler Konzerne. 

Nach den zentralen Themen des Buches (Ernährungskrise, die Ausbreitung der kapitalistisch-industriellen Landwirtschaft und die Notlage der Bauern) geht Bello auf den Widerstand der Bauern und den Weg in die Zukunft ein. Er zeichnet Profile von Lee Kyung Hae (koreanischer Bauer der sich aus Protest gegen die WTO selbst getötet hat), José Bové (Frankreich) und Pedro Stédile (MST in Brasilien). Bello erläutert die Ziele von La Via Campesina, die für „Ernährungssouveränität“ eintritt, also die Selbstversorgung mit Nahrungsmitteln als Ziel der Agrarpolitik, wobei diese auch von den dortigen Bauern produziert werden. Beim Konzept der „Ernährungssicherheit“ hingegen kann der Nahrungsmittelbedarf über die heimische Produktion oder über den Import gedeckt werden.  

Bellos Buch ist eine tiefgehende Analyse der politischen Ökonomie des Hungers und eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit den gängigen Theorien wirtschaftlicher Entwicklung. (es)