The right to food is international

This is one of a series of articles about the right to food, all written as hunger and malnourishment are imposed on more working-class people in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world. Left Unity is an ecosocialist, internationalist and feminist party, proud to have its feet firmly in the working class and proud to work with others who want to fight for a better life for our class. 

We fight, as fight we must, for the right to food both here in Britain and across the globe. Hunger and precarious access to food is growing here and in many parts of the world.

Food is a necessity of life, and the right to food is a Universal Human Right. Whilst we work and campaign for our own families,’ neighbours’ and work mates’ food, we know hunger in the UK fits into the wider world’s food problems. Even the price of our fish and chips is determined by global events. To win the fight for good food for all we must work with trade unions and campaigners across the globe. There are resources enough to feed the world if those resources are used according to need, not profit.

Our campaign for access to food takes many forms. Our unions fight for better pay so we can buy sufficient decent food. Trade and migration agreements affect pay and conditions of employment Casual or precarious employment often run alongside food poverty.

People fighting for the right to food work also in our communities, donating to our local food pantry, buying family or friends extra groceries, or showing solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers or the homeless. This happens across the globe. We work politically, demanding that social security is sufficient to provide good food for all, including those who can’t go to work and those caring both formally and informally. We demand the end to the two children only policy for welfare benefits and for the rights of all who work in the food industry. We raise the demand free school meals for all children.

The right to food is not just about nutrition. Growing and eating food together builds and preserves families and communities. Food comes from the land and custodianship over the land matters. It is vital that those living and working on small scale farms are supported by governments. We cannot leave the right to food and the need for local food production to the market alone.

We are stronger fighting for our rights when we link with other people fighting for their rights. The struggle for food is international. Solidarity gives us strength.

Across the world people are fighting and campaigning for just, sustainable food rights. We eat from a globalised, environmentally and socially unsustainable supply chain. Earth could feed twice as many people as live on earth now without clearing any new farmland. Global hunger is not a production problem, it is an ownership and distribution problem.

Climate change and extreme weather events exacerbate problems, but these problems are manageable if there is a political will to do so. There are major food crises in Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Yemen. Brazil which had nearly conquered hunger under the Lula government, has lost all its gains.

Once hailed globally for its success combatting hunger, Brazil is facing a food crisis. A December 2020 study found that roughly half of the country’s 213.6 million inhabitants do not always have enough to eat. The number of Brazilians facing severe food insecurity nearly doubled between 2018 and 2020, to 19.1 million, or almost 10% of the population, the same level as nearly two decades ago.

China bucks the trend and has improved access to food for many millions of its citizens. The World Bank report also says support was needed to alleviate persistent poverty; support was initially provided to areas disadvantaged by geography and the lack of opportunities and later to individual households.

Climate change is upon us and directly affects food supply now and in the future. The latest IPCC report says ‘climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).’

Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions.

Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,’ said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

War and sanctions damage access to food, the growing of crops and the trading of crops – food is a weapon in the Russian war on Ukraine. Food features in strategic planning for war and in the intense class war between the very rich and the global majority. China’s food needs are used in war planning, especially in the Pacific. (This from a think tank with links to US military).

Globally, food travels around the world in an elaborate supply chain. At its simplest, for example, bread made in Ireland is made in processes on different sides of the border. At a more complex level, it involves intercontinental transport of animal feeds, raw meat products, packaging and processing, and further transport of processed foods from producer to distributor, to retailer.

The long drive of capitalism to concentrate food production in the hands of Trans-National Corporations and reduce subsistence farming has caused tremendous harm. We need local sustainable farming, free from the malign influence of the big corporations using sustainable technology and science. We need the rights of the people who grow food to count for more than corporations who drive the locals off their land, clear forests, break up ecosystems and bring damaging viruses into the food chain. We need the work of women in food production to be recognised and rewarded. In Africa women grow 80% of the food without rights over the land. Agricultural intensification, huge factory farms and bringing wild lands into intensive cultivation have all caused huge problems. The need to move swiftly towards a more plant-based diet is well known. Big Farms Make Big Flu by Rob Wallace is a crucial study in the damage of intensive ‘factory’ livestock farming.

Intense hunger is back amongst the peoples of the world. Charity cannot solve this problem except in the truly short term.

The great Strike in India in 2020 gives us all hope that workers and farmers can organise together to stop capitalism’s relentless drive to lower living standards and greater profits. The Indian farmers and farm workers were protesting laws that would have given big corporations the right to say what they could grow and how they could grow it. Neo-liberal free trade would have wrecked their living standards and their future. The Farmers stayed on strike for a year until they won, and the government repealed the laws, and granted compensation for those killed by the government during the strike. Minimum “support” prices were to be agreed by government representatives. Farmers and Trade Unions supported this campaign. Trade unions reported that 250 million workers took part. It is described as the largest general strike in history.

It is important to the people and the planet that those who work the land, have control over it. The knowledge of the land, the soil, the weather, knowledge held over centuries is vital in this time of intense change.

Food shortages and food price inflation cause unrest. The last big rise in food prices sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. It is often the middle and lower wealth countries that experience food prices rising above the reach of populations, but now Britain and Europe are joining in, by political decision of their governments.

The late Samir Amin, a Marxist economist and political scientist from Egypt edited a book called “Food Movements Unite Strategies to Transform our food system”. The book says,

A dynamic global food movement has risen up in the face of this sustained corporate assault on our food systems. Around the world, local food justice activists have taken back pieces of the food system through local gardening, organic farming, community-supported agriculture, farmers markets, and locally owned processing and retail operations. Food sovereignty advocates have organized locally and internationally for land reform, the end of destructive free trade agreements, and support for family farmers, women and peasants’ protests against—and viable alternatives to—the expansion of GMOs, agrofuels, land grabs and the oligopolistic control of our food, are growing everywhere every day, giving the impression that food movements are literally “breaking through the asphalt” of a reified corporate food regime.’

So, the Right to Food movements in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are linking to a long worldwide struggle.

Large parts of the food and agriculture workforce is still to be unionised but the concepts of unionisation and the strike are still alive. Some of the recent strikes have indeed been in non-union work forces. We can use our organised strength as the Indian workers did to ensure we have the right to food.

The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is also protected by regional treaties and national constitutions. Furthermore, the right to food of specific groups has been recognized in several international conventions. All human beings, regardless of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status have the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger.

Such rights count for nothing unless enforced by popular struggle. No-one in the UK was asked to vote to increase food poverty, yet government policy has ensured that hunger has increased. This is not a mistake, or incompetence, but a political decision. This government is intent on profit, not on the needs of the people. The causes of hunger in the UK are government policy and poor wages. Think of the cruelty of the two-child limit on social security payments. Even the workhouse fed all the children. Big charities overseas donate to all the children no matter where in the family they are born.

Hunger is a weapon in class war and other kinds of war. Hunger in Afghanistan is dreadful and unnecessary but politically reenforced by the US to put pressure on the Taliban leadership, so ten million children are going hungry there. Food supply is disrupted by conflict in many countries and the restrictions on Ukrainian food exports are exacerbating problems in parts of Africa, including Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia, Algeria and Nigeria.

David Beasley, head of the U.N. World Food Program, said its latest analysis shows that “a record 345 million acutely hungry people are marching to the brink of starvation” — a 25% increase from 276 million at the start of 2022 before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The number stood at 135 million before the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

The report estimates that between 702 million and 828 million people faced hunger last year.

The latest flagship UN report on human development, released on Thursday, warns that multiple crises are halting progress on human development, which is going backwards in the overwhelming majority of countries.

We live in such a globalised food market that war and violence in different continents disrupt supplies of food everywhere. For generations farmers were told to grow for the market not for local subsistence yet local subsistence farming matters Globalisation of food production and pushing small farmers off their land to make way for agribusiness is driving hunger and despoliation.

Oxfam reported at the last Davos meeting:

Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist.”

Our fight for the right to food is universal.

As ecosocialists we call for system change to end the rule of the Corporations. As David Whyte explains in his book Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before It Kills Us we should end the rule of the corporations.

Further risks ahead. The British economy could easily be tipped into a major recession by the crass policies of this government. We, the working class in this country, paid the price of the 2008 financial crash, as the bankers just got richer. We will not pay again.

Left Unity calls for a three-pronged attack on hunger:

1. The Trade Unions to take up the right to good food with energy, enthusiasm and action. Trade union members whose unions are not already actively seeking higher pay should raise it in their union branches, and email their headquarters.

2. Left Unity calls on all our supporters to continue to work with solidarity actions on this issue, such as Fans Supporting Food Banks (who tweeted Hunger is not Red, Blue or Green, it doesn’t have a Race, Religion or a Gender it doesn’t discriminate. Hunger doesn’t discriminate, it can impact on us all).

3. We must make this a big political issue putting demands on Governments, and on Councils, and on political parties internationally. It must be part of the COP27 campaigns.

A further article will discuss UK food policy.

Support the right to food.

Felicity Dowling – Left Unity Principal Speaker

1 comment

One response to “The right to food is international”

  1. Mary Connolly says:

    Delighted to see Left Unity promoting the Right to Food as a fundamental Human Rights, this is gratefully appreciated. Thanks for all the work yee do and contribute to, its valued and appreciated. Keep being AMAZING.

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