Global Food Crisis: The scenario and challenges Balaram Baskota Deputy General Secretary All Nepal Peasants' Federation Food is the fundamental right of human beings. Since its introduction as the demand of the general public towards the end of the twentieth century, it is approaching to its climax in the beginning of the twenty-first century. There has recently been a rapid development in the world of the concept that right to food should be protected by law. Worldwide movement is growing .In Nepal, law has been developing as well, people's movement to put an end to feudalism and its champion, monarchy and the movement for food sovereignty developed simultaneously as the two sides of the same coin. As a result, the Interim Constitution of Nepal has incorporated food sovereignty as the fundamental right. Though it was agreed amidst the balance among the then power sources to apply by forming laws, people should get the opportunity to entertain this right as it has already been established as the fundamental right. This year the food crisis has been spreading worldwide on which the Secretary General of United Nations has expressed his serious concern and urged the developed nations to increase food production by 50% in the next 30 years. The Director of United Nations World Food Program has said that the era of cheap food of the last 30 has been a thing of the past. The issue of food crisis has emerged while there has emerged global concern about right to food and food sovereignty. The crisis created by the global rise in food prices has caused the policy makers to consider the matter with a cool mind. Perhaps considering the same situation such a promoter of profit generating companies and imperialism as World Bank has after 25 years been compelled to consider in its World Trade Report 2008 the agricultural development as the basis for development. It is indubitable that if the food as the basic need of all living things is undermined, it will give rise to some most horrible situations. Thus, it is reasonable for such an issue of great concern to attract our attention. Food Crisis in the world The recent rise in prices of food like, rice, wheat, maize and oil has trodden the people down never to rise. The worldwide rocketing of prices has driven the people to suffer from food crisis. Eastern Asian, South Asian and African countries are worst hit by this disastrous situation as being vulnerable by poverty. Asia, the continent renowned for its food export and especially for the large storage of rice, has turned itself to have been compelled now to import food. Asia alone inhabits 520 million people who suffer hunger of the 840 million all over the world. We can easily estimate the consequences of price rise to the people who live in South Asia. The rise in price has disastrous effect to the people residing in the poor, rural and remote areas of this region. Hunger, suffering, poverty and deprivation have become the usual phenomena for the people of this region. An analysis of the rise in prices of food in the market from March 2008 shows that the price of food has risen by 88%, the prices of edible oil by 106% and milk and milk products by 48%. Considering the rise in prices of food and its dreadful consequences, the Philippines have imported a large amount of rice from Thailand. When the people in the African nation Haiti took to street demanding the right to food, the Prime Minister had to resign due to the huge public pressure. In Cameron, a country of the same continent, 24 people lost their lives only because they took to street demanding the right to food. Likewise, the people in Al Salvador have nothing else to choose than reducing their food by half the amount as a result of the soaring prices and lack of food. In addition to this, the people in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan also have organized huge demonstrations for the right to food and sufficient supply of food. In this context, with a view to checking further disastrous situations in the future, 48 countries including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam have banned the export of food that includes rice and wheat. Afghan people who used to spend about 10% of their gross income till last year have to spend about 60% of their income at present. To cope with these problems and to earn their bread and butter the marginalized masses of people have to sell their properties whatever they have or pull back their children from school. These preceding factors have also led them to under nutrition and stay deprived of basic health services. Ironically, disregarding the fact that food is the most important of the basic needs and not merchandise, the Prime Minister of Thailand is preaching his people to earn profit by cutting down a mouthful of their rice and exporting it more. The US President Bush insists that the present food crisis is due to the change in food habits of the people in China and India along with the uplifting of their economic standard. This statement sufficiently proves that the imperialists and their brokers stand against the people's right to food in a balanced and sufficient manner. Having acknowledged the same, in the summit conference of World Food Organization in 1996, with the chiefs of the states, chiefs of the governments and representatives of the governments discussing over food security, Henry Saraigh as the representative of La Via Campesina (International Peasant Movement) expressed that only the alternative is the food sovereignty. He emphasized that only theoretical base is not sufficient for the solution of the problems, that the concept of food security oversees the aspects of production, distribution and market management of food that World Trade Organization is trying to trap agriculture. Thus came up the concept of food sovereignty. In the past in the 1960s also food prices had risen as an international issue. Taking advantage of the situation, under the pretension of food aid, America dared to trample the peasant movements in developing countries where it had its stronghold. So called green revolution for growth in production destroyed in turn the ecological and biological agriculture system. Using the bases of World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) neo-liberalism has enclosed agriculture within World Trade Organization. The food crisis will continue until agriculture is liberated form World Trade Organization. Food crisis in Nepal Nepal also couldn't remain free from the food crisis in the world. The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 has incorporated food sovereignty as the fundamental right of people but it hasn't been implemented and practiced. Rights of the people over the means of production have not yet been established. Still now, feudal landlords own 50%, former kings and their families own 3%, Guthis own 9% and 70% of the ordinary people own only 0.5% of land. Along with the price hike in petroleum came up the increase in transportation fares gradually covering foods, vegetables and other goods of daily consumption. The rise in prices has deprived the people of lower classes to have a full stomach. By the end of February of the fiscal year in progress, the price of butter oil and edible oil has risen by 27.3%, price of rice by 19.4% and price of lentil and cereals by 16.8% in spite of the government ban in the export of food items. Due to the food crisis the illegal export of them has not stopped. There is no lack of food in the, market but there is a continuous rise in the prices. According to a report made public by United Nations World Food Program on 19 June 2008, people of 9 districts namely Achham, Bajura, Dailekh, Dolpa, Humla, Jajarkot, Kalikot, Mugu and Rukum are suffering food crisis. The report shows that the production of food in these districts has decreased by 20% to 70% and 3.9 million rural people are likely to suffer food crisis. The food crisis has affected the whole country and many have starved to death in Jajarkot, Arghakhanchi and Dailekh. While the country is undergoing a transitional period, the government is unable to control the market prices of goods and services. People continue suffering impurity in food items. Recently, incidents of carelessness and irresponsibility of multinational companies in the production of alcoholic beverages have also appeared. The government is unable to react towards them when they should have been punished for. Researches show that pesticides and toxins used in vegetables and fruits are causing cancer and other diseases. Due to the content of toxins in honey and tea of Nepal, they have been denied in the international market and the food products of Nepal haven't been able to leave a good image in the international market. The seeds to be used by the farmers have reached in the grip of multinational companies. Causes of Food Crisis in the World Use of bio-fuel After the petroleum prices started soaring, some developed countries started using bio-fuel as an alternative. The use of maize, wheat, sugarcane and mustard, items used for human food, as fuel, would obviously create insufficient supply. The insufficient supply would in turn give rise to prices. It is the law of economics. Hence, the use of food items as an alternative to fuel in the developed countries is a cause of food crisis in the world. America uses maize to produce bio-fuel (ethanol). Statistics show that 240 kilograms of food item is used to produce one liter of bio-fuel. The food item used to produce one kilogram of bio-fuel can be sufficient for a person for a year. Another report reveals that America used 25% of its maize production for bio-fuel. The surprising fact is that America alone squanders food stuff that equals the amount imported by 82 poor countries in its vehicles. The countries which are in the first row to simulate America in misusing food items for fuel are China, India and Brazil. Rise in prices of petroleum The effect of soaring prices of fuel is a usual circumstance in other areas. As bio-fuel is produced from food, the price hike in fuel has directly hampered the food sector. Monopoly of a few international companies in food sector As an influence and effect of neo-liberalism, a few multinational companies have monopolized the world food market. These companies influence and control the food production and distribution system. Archer Danciellos, Kargil and Bang are a few instances of this. Population growth Population growth is another cause of food crisis. The world population rose to about 5 billion in 1980 from 2.5 billion in 1950 and it is expected to have reached to 6.5 billion at present. Although the problem of food crisis was tried to overcome with the so called green revolution in the 1960s, it couldn't come true in practice. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides for higher production has increased acidity and reduced the fertility of land. In the same way, we have numerous examples of their hazardous effects in human health and environment. Change and new interests in the food culture of the people in developing countries The people of the developed countries who would consume animal food have now been more interested and dependent on plant food. Food consumption in developed countries is also on the rise. It seems that, as animal foods including meat and egg have higher amount of cholesterol which causes high blood pressure and obesity, people have been more interested in plant food. This change in pattern of food consumption in the developed countries has created problem to the developing countries which were dependent on plant food. Now in the changed circumstances they cannot afford animal food. Limited access of people in natural resources and means of production One of the causes of food crisis is the lack of access of ordinary people to land, water, forest, herbs and other resources as most of the people depending on agriculture do not own land. On the other hand many multinational companies own a lot of fertile land and have left unused. Since the general public does not have the right and access to resources and means of production, the profit and surplus produced by agriculture, trade and industry goes in the hand of the multinational companies and a few rich industrialists. The situation has resulted that the people of the lower strata of society are disadvantaged of the profits and benefits from land, forest and water which they have been using for ages. Inequitable distribution of food The Earth bears the ability to produce sufficient food to support the world population. The food crisis is not the cause of insufficient production but a result of unequal distribution. In other words, it is a result of an excessive storage of some and lack of just enough food for the others. Use of fertile land for the construction of special economic zone An encroachment of fertile land in the name of special economic zone is another cause of food crisis. Multinational companies buy fertile land in high prices but leave it unused. It takes the means and resources away from the general public leaving them deprived of food and employment. Likewise, the use of land in special economic zone for inedible agricultural production and industries has adverse effects in the sustainable food system of people. In this way, the agricultural land is being encroached day by day and poor farmers are turning landless proletariats. Nandigram and Singur of India are instances of this. Increasing urbanization Urbanization is occupying huge agricultural lands in different countries of the world. In Nepal the fertile land of Kathmandu Valley has been used for the capital city and the little left is being plotted for more settlements and extension of the same. Previously, houses were built in less fertile land and the fertile land with irrigation was used for agriculture. People are occupying fertile river basins for human settlements misusing it but the government has not taken any steps to control it. Attraction of people towards cash crops Since the cash crops are more profitable, the farmers are discarding the food crops and promoting cash crops. The production of cash crops reduces the production of food crops which as a result causes the lack of food stuffs. In addition, the cash achieved by selling cash crop is spent in buying other goods rather than food. Researches show that the children of farmers producing cash crops are more likely to suffer malnutrition than of the farmers producing food crops. Monopoly and interest of multinational corporations Multinational companies produce food and drinks with a view to generating s lot of profit badly affecting the food habit and culture of the people. They monopolize the production of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and continuously exploit the poor farmers. Largely plotting of land by multinational companies for industrialization in agriculture hampers badly the poor peasant families and farm workers. On the one hand the multinational companies buy the lands owned by small farmers paying them a quite good price; on the other hand it leaves them landless, and unemployed because of the excessive use of machines for agricultural works. Reduction in subsidies in agriculture Developing and underdeveloped countries are cutting down the subsidies in agriculture. On the contrary, developed countries are providing subsidies up to 200% for the same. This reduction in subsidies discourages the people towards the agricultural works. The farmers of the developed countries as well should get the subsidies in agriculture as much as the farmers of developed countries. Reduction in storage of food Food experts say that the world has the food storage only for 54 days. Rise in the cost of cold stores and effect of price rise of petroleum in transportation have also caused the limitation in the storage of food. This fact needs to be considered while discussing about the reduction in storage of food. Global warming It is likely that we may hardly see any snowy mountains in the near future as the snow in the mountains is melting rapidly due to the global warming. Landslide, flood, drought, crop failure and desertification of land are threatening people's daily life. The quantity of carbon dioxide also has increased in the atmosphere. All these factors have contributed in the reduction of food production. Effects of Food Crisis Rise in starvation and hunger in underdeveloped and developed countries Unwanted trend of food hoarding. The situation inclined towards food-heavy consumption budgeting. Slow-down in the macro economic growth variables Decline in trade and industry due to high expenditure in food. Food Sovereignty: An Essential Factor to Overcome Food Crisis The present agricultural system manages to move along with the wave of neo-liberalism, imperialism, globalization and privatization suffering and entangling with the interests of profit oriented capitalistic business corporations. In this context, the right to food of the people and sustainable agriculture according to their culture and sustainability of environment must get due protection. If people have free access to food items, freedom to follow agriculture system of their own, right to water, land, forest, herbs, bio-diversity and pasture with due protection and promotion of national agricultural economy, food crisis will be a thing of past. As an initiative to ensure the right to food of the people and protection of the peasant rights, food sovereignty has been established as the flag of the peasant movement. Provided that the movement is fostered and intensified, it will put an end to weakening capitalism and imperialism and their supporting multinational organizations, World Bank, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank. The success of peasant movement will in fact defend and preserve the pride and dignity of agricultural sector in developing and underdeveloped countries.