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A small number of corporations exercise undue influence over the global industrial food system
Nov. 2022
Recommit to the right to food- UN expert. (OHCHR)
“One year ago, the international political situation was bad. It was bad because there was no multilateral response to the food crisis,” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, told the UN General Assembly (GA).
“I can tell you, in last year’s resolution on the right to food you gave the world hope… It was like you gave the world the green light it needed to dedicate more political and diplomatic energy to addressing the food crisis,” he added.
In his latest report to the GA, Fakhri analyses the issues linked to food insecurity and nutrition that were exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time during which communities around the world have been able to adapt to survive. For this, they adopted resilient solutions such as localized markets, public food reserves and public food distribution systems, as well as agroecology, defined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization as an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to design and management of food and agricultural systems.
However, Fakhri pointed out that, although Governments on their end were able to implement pandemic relief measures - such as direct cash transfers, universal school meals, the protection of workers’ rights and social protection - they have yet to mobilize and come up with a perennial multilateral response to the global food crisis.
Since Fakhri’s appearance before the GA in 2021, food insecurity, he said, has worsened. Lockdown measures that have restricted the access of food producers to their territories and forced the closure of informal markets where those foods where sold have had an unfair impact on small scale farmers and on the livelihoods of poor urban buyers and sellers.
The expert also pointed out that women, who make up a sizable portion of workers in the informal sector and of smallholder food producers and also bear the responsibility to feed their families, were likely the first to go hungry. Also under these lockdowns, children were denied access to daily school meals. Another concern of the expert was that more children would be pushed into work, especially in the agricultural sector. Last year, child labour increased globally to 160 million, the first rise in 20 years.
Fakhri further said that, this year, an additional 50 million people will face severe hunger, and another 19 million are expected to face chronic undernourishment in 2023. Domestic food inflation in more than 60 countries is reportedly 15 per cent or higher year on year, and about 60 per cent of low-income countries find themselves in, or at high risk of, debt distress.
To overcome these challenges, the expert urged governments to build on what worked during the pandemic as an immediate response. “Many governments are starting to end pandemic relief measures. But measures like universal school meals and direct cash transfers provided proof of what is possible to realise the right to food. Make these programmes permanent, do not end them,” he said.
Fakhri also recommended that governments re-purpose their existing budgets to transition to agroecology, urging them to ensure that their populations have strong land rights and equitable access to land.
He also called on UN Member States to reaffirm their commitment to the right to food by creating a declaration to “inspire and galvanize the world to cooperate and tackle the food crisis.”
“For every moment governments delay enacting a coherent, coordinated food security agenda, more people will become poorer, sicker and hungrier,” Fakhri said.
“But change won’t happen until workers, peasants, pastoralists, fishers and indigenous peoples establish new relationships of solidarity. This has proven to bring about real and equitable change.”
A small number of corporations exercise undue influence over the global industrial food system. (IPS)
While grain exports continue to regularly flow to world’s markets since the July 2022 Turkey-brokered agreement between Russia and Ukraine to resume cereals and fertilisers shipments from both countries, food prices are still skyrocketing everywhere. How come?
The handiest answer by establishment politicians and media is that it’s all about the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February.
Another argument they use is that it is Russia who interrupted its gas and oil exports, omitting the fact that it is West US-led sanctions that have drastically cut this flow to mostly European markets, causing a steady rise in energy costs, food transportation, etcetera.
Nonetheless, such answers clearly ignore other structural causes: the dominant markets’ shocking speculations.
“It is true that the Russian invasion against Ukraine disrupted global markets, and that prices are skyrocketing. But that also tells us that markets are part of the problem,” last April warned Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, 2022.
In his report to the United Nations Security Council, the Special Rapporteur stated that hunger and famine, like conflicts, are always the result of “political failures.”
Specifically, explains Michael Fakhri, “Markets are amplifying shocks and not absorbing them… food prices are soaring not because of a problem with supply and demand as such; it is because of price speculation in commodity futures markets.”
The current food crisis is caused by “international failures,” he said, while providing two points in conclusion:
For over two years, people and civil society organisations around the world have been raising the alarm about the food crisis. For over two years, they have been calling for an international coordinated response to the food crisis.
And yet Member States have refused to mobilise the Rome-based agencies and other UN organisations to respond to the food crisis in a coordinated way.
According to Michael Fakhri, some Member States and civil society organisations tried to get the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) to pass a resolution last October in order for it to be the place to enable global policy coordination around the food crisis.
“And yet some powerful countries – some members of the P5 [the five permanent, veto-holder prowers]– actively blocked that initiative. This undermined the world’s ability to respond to the food crisis.”
Meanwhile, in a 7 November 2022 dossier by Focus on the Global South, Shalmali Guttal warned that a perfect storm is brewing in the global food system, pushing food prices to record high levels, and expanding hunger.
“As international institutions struggle to respond, some governments have resorted to knee-jerk ‘food nationalism’ by placing export bans to preserve their own food supplies and stabilise prices….”
In its dossier, researchers from Focus on the Global South write about various aspects of the current crisis, its causes, and how it is impacting countries in Asia.
These include regional analysis, case studies from Sri Lanka, Philippines and India, “the role of corporations in fuelling the crisis and the flawed responses of international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Bretton Woods Institutions and United Nations agencies.”
The recently released State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2022 (SOFI 2022) report presents a sobering picture of the failure of global efforts to end hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. According to SOFI 21, “even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, world hunger levels were abysmally high.”
In their recent analysis: A food crisis not of their making, CP Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, said:
Governments, and multilateral and international agencies are by and large apportioning the lion’s share of the blame for the current world food crisis to global supply shortages arising from the war on Ukraine, ignoring the persisting impacts in low- and middle-income countries of “the market forces of concentration and speculation, of globally determined macroeconomic processes, and the collapse of livelihood opportunities affecting these countries in the post-Covid world.”
Central to recurring food price volatility, food crises and the entrenchment of hunger and food insecurity are “market structures, regulations, and trade and finance arrangements that bolster a global corporate-dominated industrial food system, and enable market concentration and financial speculation in commodity markets.”
Furthermore, an analysis by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) indicates that the kind of “excessive speculation” seen in 2007-2008 that triggered food price spikes may be back.
“Multilevel market concentration and financial speculation on commodity markets have played pivotal roles in past and the present food crises and present grave threats to the realisation of the Right to Food.”
In addition, a historical examination of food crises over the past 50 years by professor Jennifer Clapp shows that the global industrial food system has been rendered more prone to price volatility and more susceptible to crises because of three interrelated manifestations of corporate concentration:
First, the global industrial food system relies on a small number of staple grains produced using highly industrialised farming methods, making the system susceptible to events that affect just a handful of crops and to rising costs of industrial farm inputs.
Second, a small number of countries specialise in the production of staple grains for export, on which many other countries depend, including many of the poorest and most food-insecure countries.
And third, the global grain trade is dominated by a small number of firms in highly financialized commodity markets that are prone to volatility (IPES-Food 2022; FAO 2022; OECD and FAO 2020).”
On this, Jennifer Clapp, professor and Canada Research Chair, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, explains that “a small number of corporations exercise a high degree of influence over the global industrial food system, powered by mergers and acquisitions of one another to form giant mega-corporations, which enable further concentration horizontally and vertically, as well as influence over policy-making and governance nationally and globally.”
According to Clapp, “four grain trading corporations– Archer-Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus, called the ‘ABCD’– control 70-90 % of the grain trade.”
As “cross-sectoral value chain managers” these grain trading giants are able to compile large amounts of market data, but are under no obligation to disclose this information and can hold stocks until prices have peaked, explains the expert.
“And in each of the three global food crises studied, financial speculation has caused steep increases in prices, making food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of people.”

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Austerity measures and their gendered harms are a form of gender-based violence
by Amina Hersi
Oxfam International
Nov. 2022
Governments around the world are putting women and girls in danger of unprecedented new levels of poverty, peril, overwork, and premature death as a result of near-universal “slash-and-burn" efforts to recover their economies from the pandemic and tame inflation.
A new Oxfam report, “The Assault of Austerity”, says that four out of every five governments are now locked into austerity measures, cutting public services like health, education, and social protection rather than pursuing wealth taxes and windfall taxes.
More than half of these governments already fail their women and girls, by failing to provide or barely providing gendered public and social services. They are treating women and girls as expendable.
“Women carry most of the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of these cuts to crucial public services because they rely on them most. The road to post-pandemic recovery is being built upon the lives and sweated labor and security of women and girls,” said Oxfam Head of Gender Justice and Gender Rights, Amina Hersi. “Austerity is a form of gender-based violence.”
Austerity is not inevitable, it is a choice: governments can continue to cause harm by cutting public services, or they could raise taxes on those who can afford it. A progressive wealth tax on the world's millionaires and billionaires can raise almost $1 trillion more than governments are planning to save through cuts in 2023.
Recent reports from UN agencies show that women and girls are already living in dire situations and Oxfam believes that austerity policies are contributing to:
More women and girls joining the 1.7 billion who are already now living below the poverty line of $5.50 a day;
Baking in the unequal “return to work” rate of women, who between 2019-22 captured only 21% of all projected employment gains, with many of those jobs becoming ever more exploitative and precarious;
Women being foisted with yet more responsibility for care, even as they already worked an additional 512 billion unpaid hours in 2020;
Women and girls facing even more difficulty to get clean water – the lack of which already kills 800,000 of them each year – along with affordable food, given the sharp rises in costs;
More violence, even as one in every 10 women and girls faced sexual and physical violence from an intimate partner in the past year. To squeeze budgets during the lockdown, 85% of countries shut their emergency services for survivors of gender-based violence, according to a UNDP review.
With more than 85% of the world’s population projected to live under austerity measures in 2023, this already horrific situation will get worse, even as governments’ priorities are clearly elsewhere: 2% of what governments spend on military is enough to end interpersonal gender-based violence in 132 countries.
“Austerity policies blend patriarchy and neoliberal ideology to further exploit the most oppressed within society and deliberately dismiss their needs,” said Hersi.
“It is not just a gendered policy, it is also a gendered process in its ‘everydayness’ – the way it permeates the daily lives of women specifically, in their incomes, their care responsibilities, their ability to access services as essential as health, water, and transportation, and in their overall safety and freedom from physical violence in the home, at work, and on the street,” Hersi said.
The report shows that women are impacted by cuts to services, social protection and infrastructure twice: first directly, through rising prices or loss of jobs; and then indirectly, because they are made society’s ‘shock absorbers’ and expected to survive and take care of everyone when the state steps back.
For example, despite the terrible impact of food price inflation, and with more than 60% of the world’s hungry being women, the IMF told nine countries, including Cameroon, Senegal and Surinam, to introduce or increase value-added tax which often applies to everyday products including food.
The report says that governments are pursuing their economic policies in a vacuum of gendered data. Less than half the data needed to monitor the fifth Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality is currently available. Only about 35% of reported health-related data is segregated by gender.
“This absence of systemic data about the economic violence being perpetrated upon women means that governments are making their economic decisions in the dark,” Hersi said.
“Women are being gaslit by a false choice between the state either providing social and public services or repaying debt and attracting investment and growth. It doesn’t have to be,” Hersi said.
Governments should adopt human-centred, feminist economic policy choices to tackle inequalities and support the well-being of marginalised groups across all countries, the report says.
Oxfam calls all governments to end austerity and instead seek alternatives such as feminist budgeting and progressive taxation, where taxes are invested into universal social protection and public services, putting the specific needs of women and girls at the heart of policy-making. It calls for decent work through the full implementation of the International Labour Organization’s labour standards, particularly for women in the informal and care economies.
Oxfam calls on the IMF to stop pushing painful, failed austerity measures, and to suspend austerity-based conditionality on all its existing loan programmes. It also calls on rich countries to urgently advance debt cancellation and debt-free financing for lower-income countries.

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