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Issue #1692      July 8, 2015

Culture & Life

Capitalism: burning fossil fuels and controlling food

Oxfam has released a new report titled Let Them Eat Coal accusing the most developed nations of continuing to burn coal at unsustainable rates. Coal is still the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The report says the developed nations’ continued use of coal “is driving planetary destruction on a massive scale and pushing off investments in the solutions necessary to right humanity’s course in the coming years and decades”.

According to the report’s summary, each existing or new coal power station in the world should be seen “as a weapon of climate destruction – fuelling ruinous weather patterns, devastating harvests, driving food price rises and ultimately leaving more people facing hunger. With these climate impacts falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable and least food-secure people, the burning of coal is further exacerbating inequality.”

Oxfam is particularly concerned at the effect climate change is having on the fight against hunger. Oxfam’s concern is backed up by Professor Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, who says: “Climate disruptions are already affecting many poor communities in the global South, and coal-fired power stations are contributing, every day, to make this worse. They increasingly look like weapons of destruction aimed at those who suffer the impacts of changing rainfall patterns as well as of extreme weather events.”

Oxfam says that the financial costs associated with the damage done by the ongoing mining and burning of coal by the G7 countries (the US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) far outweigh the aid and assistance money they spend on rural development or agriculture across the African continent.

Using available and trusted climate and financial models, Oxfam estimates that coal emissions fuelled by G7-sponsored or financed projects will be responsible for total climate change-related costs in Africa of approximately US$43 billion per year by the 2080s and US$84 billion per year by the end of the century. Those figures, says the international aid group, represent 60 times what G7 countries give Africa in agricultural and rural development aid and more than three times what G7 countries give Africa in total bilateral aid.

“The G7’s coal habit is racking up costs for Africa and other developing regions,” said Celine Charveriat, Oxfam International’s director of advocacy and campaigns. “It’s time G7 leaders wake up to the hunger their own energy systems are causing to the world’s poorest people on the frontline of climate change. The G7 leaders must stop using emissions growth in developing countries as an excuse for inaction and begin leading the world away from fossil fuels by starting with their own addiction to coal.”

“This will make significant additional cuts in their emissions, create jobs and be a major step towards a safer, sustainable and prosperous future for us all.”

Globally, there is a growing move away from fossil fuels even as the coal, oil, and gas industries do everything in their power to retain the destructive – yet profitable – status quo.

Oxfam International last year announced it was pulling out of the Leadership Council of the much ballyhooed New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a “public-private initiative” that has been championed by US President Barack Obama, among others, as a means to combat poverty in Africa by bolstering “sustained, inclusive, agriculture-led” growth with the goal of raising “50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years”. So what’s wrong with it?

According to smallscale farmers, unions, workers, and food sovereignty groups the New Alliance policies “facilitate the grabbing of land and other natural resources, further marginalise small-scale producers, and undermine the right to adequate food and nutrition” – all in the interest of courting large multi-nationals.

Under the New Alliance, ten African governments – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania – have “committed to develop or revise policies that will facilitate responsible private investment in agriculture in support of smallholder farmers.” However, private investment is after profit and profit does not come from smallholder farmers but from agribusiness.

The big capitalist corporations have long striven to gain control of the world’s energy resources. Not so well known is another equally important thrust of their corporate greed: control over the world’s food and water. Under the specious claim of delivering “aid to Africa,” western governments are backing an initiative that is effectively enabling the corporate takeover of African nations by some of the world’s biggest food and agriculture companies.

Although the New Alliance is supposedly there to support smallholder farmers, a precondition being sought by transnational corporations as a requirement for operating in Africa is the criminalising of the saving and swapping of seeds. Acceding to the transnationals’ demands will destroy African farmers’ seed security and make them dependent on buying new seeds every year from corporations like Monsanto. A dream situation for the transnationals.

Already, a bill to criminalise seed saving is being pushed through the parliament of Ghana.

Also far from helping smallholder farmers, under commitments made by the governments of Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania, small farmers are being forced off their property as 1.8 million hectares of the countries’ most desirable farmland has been offered to foreign investors, amounting to little more than a corporate land-grab.

And in Tanzania, under another New Alliance initiative, more than 1,300 people are liable to lose their land as the government works to recategorise village land to make it available for a Swedish-owned EcoEnergy sugarcane plantation.

Josaphat Mshighati, head of programs and policy for ActionAid Tanzania, told US web magazine Common Dreams that instead of increasing food security, farmers are losing access to the land in exchange for jobs laboring at an industrial agriculture plantation, whose sole crop is being raised for export.

“It is a form of colonialism,” Mshighati said. “Smallholder farmers are turned into labourers serving in big, private agriculture investments and some of them totally lose their access to productive land. Hence, they become much more dependent.”

Further, he added that African governments including Tanzania are “being pushed to change their seed policies to allow for ‘more modern seeds’ that will definitely be supplied by big private companies. Thus, the indigenous seeds will perish in few years and all farmers will have to rely on seeds from the western companies.”

Doug Hertzler, senior policy analyst with ActionAid USA, also told Common Dreams: “Unfortunately G7 governments’ policies seem to be more about increasing corporate profits through access to African land and labour, and opening markets to sell patented seeds and pesticides rather than realising the right to food.”

Well, duh!

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