From Volume 7, Issue Number 21 of EIR Online, Published May 20, 2008

Global Economic News

Colombian Grain Farmers Demand Government Intervention

May 13 (EIRNS)—Colombia can avoid coming food shortages, if the government takes immediate action to guarantee the country's food security, the head of Colombia's National Association of Grain and Legume Producers (FENALCE), Napoleon Viveros, told El Espectador, in an interview published May 11.

Warning that Colombia faces "brutal" dependency on imports of its basic foods, he proposed measures that the government should immediately undertake, among them price and marketing supports for growers, greatly increased land under cultivation, and increased budget allocation for improving agricultural output.

FENALCE has a history of being aggressive in defense of production, as seen, for example, in its participation in the Schiller Institute's 1988 Food for Peace conferences in the United States. In this latest interview, Viveros denounced the free-trade "economic opening" policies launched in Colombia in 1990, as responsible for the food crisis the nation now faces.

Viveros denounced the cultivation of a mere fraction of Colombia's vast arable lands, forcing a criminal dependency on foreign imports. He pointed out that by replacing "extensive ranching" (5-6 animals per hectare, a common practice of the land-rich drug kingpins) with "intensive [feedlot] ranching," many million more hectares of land could become available for high-yield crop cultivation that would rapidly solve the country's import dependency.

Colombia currently imports 3.4 million tons of corn and 1.2 millions tons of wheat a year, while producing a mere 1 million tons of corn.

Said Viveros, "The solution to the crisis in Colombia ... is very simple: that the government tell the producers, we are going to offer you prices that will enable you to see agricultural activity as a long-term business. [This means] establishing a coherent policy of good prices and assured marketing...."

Another 100 Million People Threatened by the Food Crisis

May 14 (EIRNS)—Speaking at a seminar at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Emile Frison, director general of Biodiversity International, pointed out that the current food crisis has added another 100 million poor to the status of hungry. "I don't think it's going to go away immediately," Frison said. "If nothing is done, there will continue to be riots and violence, and probably increasingly."

Frison said that Africa has yet to feel the full effects of higher prices for staple crops. The price of rice, for example, has roughly tripled since the beginning of the year, from $350 a ton to $1,000 or more. Africa, which imports up to half of its rice from Asia, is just starting to pay the higher prices.

Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), who also spoke at the seminar, said the situation is far from hopeless. In fact, governments can restore an abundant supply of affordable food if they make the right choices. One of the right choices, the speaker said, is to get to all the farmers the existing technologies and agricultural practices. That could significantly expand crop yields. "We've got to find some quick ways to get information out to the farmers." As a longer-term measure, governments must ramp up their investments in agricultural research and infrastructure, said Frison. Otherwise, "this is going to repeat itself for the foreseeable future."

Developing countries produce $9 of additional food for every $1 invested in research, Frison said.

Africa To Depend More on India for Rice Production

May 13 (EIRNS)—Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's statement to his people that India would supply Senegal 600,000 tons of rice for the next six years, is the beginning of a new arrangement between India and Africa vis-à-vis agriculture. At the first Africa-India summit held at New Delhi (April 9-10), the 14 African nations attending signed a declaration stating that, "the partnership will be based on the fundamental principles of equality, mutual respect and understanding ... for our mutual benefit." Once an unflinching supporter of Africa's independence struggle against colonialism, India enjoyed close ties and wielded considerable influence with many African countries. But analysts say New Delhi's focus on the United States and Europe since launching market reforms in 1991 has eroded its support base in Africa, while countries such as China and Japan have made great inroads.

African Union head Alpha Oumar Konare said the meeting had "truly understood" the continent's needs and aspirations. "Today, Africa does not need a guiding hand ... we are equal partners in this race like everyone else," he said, while adding that Africa could benefit from the advances made by India in health, information technology, and agriculture. "We must be able to 'walk the talk' for the sake of the peoples of our countries," he added.

According to Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), one of the reasons for African countries to seek help from India is that many have begun to shift to rice as a staple, because it is easy to cook and eat. Rice is also seen as a grain easy to import rather than grow in Africa because of high input costs, especially in areas where there is no irrigation. Already, West African countries such as Mali and Nigeria have begun to consume rice.

"During 1970s, these nations once grew pearl millets and sorghum on the banks of river Mali. That is disappearing slowly now. In Africa, less than 4% of the lands have irrigation facilities," Suresh Babu said recently at a conference in Tanzania.

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