On Monday, the world’s eyes were on a ship leaving the port of Odesa — carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn, it was the first such shipment since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
For months, every magazine and newspaper carried the same headline: A global food-crisis is looming. Record-high food prices had thrust millions into food insecurity and communities into poverty. Soon after Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, the price of wheat surged 70% and western leaders sought to tie the price increases to the war. Russia, in turn, blamed the US and European sanctions imposed against it, and Ukraine and Europe blamed the “blockade” of Ukrainian ports.
But the crisis of hunger predates the conflict. “Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020” according to a 2021 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). But, production and supply, especially of commodities like wheat, had not changed much at all. Well before the grains left the port of Odesa, the soaring wheat prices from February this year had already fallen — in mid-July, they fell to pre-war levels.
We produce more than enough food to feed the world’s entire population. Yet, our people are hungry. The spike in food prices this year, and indeed the years before it, was never about interrupted supply, not exclusively anyway — but about speculation and profiteering in the markets — a fact that has been ignored in all major reports about the food crisis from the World Bank, FAO, and other international institutions.
New data by Lighthouse Reports, a European nonprofit, shows that speculation in commodities markets is the dominant driver of the spike in prices, with speculators responsible for 72% of all buying activity on the Paris wheat market in April.
They create hunger because they can. Each year, tens of millions of subsistence farmers are forced from their land by multinational agribusinesses. This process — in its scale, almost unparalleled in human history — destroys sustainable agricultural production and forces people into slums, where access to food is dependent on prices and incomes. Poverty, not underproduction, causes famine.
They profit from our hunger because they can. The rising food crisis created “62 new food billionaires” in just 24 months since the beginning of the pandemic. These corporate empires do not trade in food — they trade in starvation.
For decades, popular forces like La Via Campesina have been fighting to build a fairer global food system. It can be done: The Indian farmers’ strike of 2020-21, which successfully overturned three neoliberal agricultural laws, gives us confidence about the power of people to resist the global regime of hunger. But to win, popular forces will need to go further — winning state power and wielding it to reclaim food from the jaws of those who profit from our hunger.
The Progressive International Secretariat