April 6, 2009

Global Experts Unpack Food Crisis

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While signs of the world food crisis may not be visible in Ithaca, Cornell hosted a diverse range of thought on the subject during an open conference called “Visible Warnings: The World Food Crisis in Perspective” this weekend. The events brought together a myriad of professors from various colleges around the globe, each of whom specialized in a different field.
The third event, called “Food, Land and Ecology,” featured Farshad Araghi of Florida Atlantic University, Saturnino Borras, Jr. of St. Mary’s University, and Kristen Lyons of Griffith University in Australia.
Of the topics discussed, emphasis was placed on unpacking the the potential causes of the crisis.
The session began with Farshad Araghi discussing the topic “Accumulation by Displacement: Ecology, Food and the Crisis of Reproduction.”
“In Zimbabwe, survival lies in scavenging,” said Araghi, while referencing a photo of a starving Zimbabwean child from the New York Times. “The current global food crisis is one expression of accumulation by displacement and the neoliberal structuring of global value relations.”
“Accumulation by displacement” refers to the shifting of agricultural work out of poor, third-world countries to first-world countries like the U.S. In these more developed countries, a surplus of food is produced and sold at a high price to impoverished countries, where citizens can barely feed themselves.
“It’s rulers like George Bush who create these problems in the world,” Araghi said. “The food crisis didn’t just ‘happen’ in 2006. It has been happening for three decades, even though its contradictions in the form of food riots and social disruptions are now forcing its visibility.”

[img_assist|nid=36589|title=Chop, Dice, Simmer and Slice|desc=Miguel Altieri, professor at U.C. Berkeley, speaks about food crisis implications on Friday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Borras, the second speaker of the session, explained the food crisis and its implications through the framework of land grabbing — or the taking of land to expand power.
“We came in with a few questions. After analyzing everything, we came out with no answers, and only more questions,” said Borras, referring to his attempts to demystify the exact role of land grabs in the current food crisis.
An advocate for land use change, Borras explained that the food fuel crisis brought land back into the center stage of political and radical discourse.
“Land reform has been revisited. It has becomes an important, narrow, but relevant type of political demand,” Borras said.
As the final speaker of the session, Lyons discussed the effects and extent to which organic agriculture can democratize Africa.
“ … organic agricultural sectors in Uganda are tied to export companies. This ensures a secure market and income for farmers and their families in Uganda,” Lyons said. “60 to 70 percent of the Ugandan organic sector is destined for export to the European Union, and so there is a great dependence on export companies.”
Lyons pointed out several economic benefits of organic farming, such as improving yield and securing markets. The main disadvantage in the current organic market system in Uganda, however, is that many farmers are limited on their freedom of expression, and cannot express their experience of working in the sector.
“There are social, environmental and economic issues regarding organic standards in Uganda. There are new opportunities and challenges created for farmers. There needs to be a democratized governing system,” said Lyons, to conclude her segment of the session.
The chairperson of the session, Charles Geisler, then wrapped up proceedings as the attendees gave a round of applause for the three speakers.
About 50 people — mostly graduate students and professionals from related fields — attended the event despite it being held at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.
“[It’s] a really rare treat to have [all these experts] together at the same time and discuss their opinions on the issue,” Mindi Schneider grad said. “The systematic food crisis is a real problem, and the inequalities in food production and consumption are an integral part of that problem.”
The event was sponsored by the Polson Institute for Global Development, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Development, the Institute for Social Sciences, and the Department of Development Sociology.