Food as weapon

Najma Sadeque

Courtesy to “Financial Post”

There are some things from military history that civilians should know, and be conscious of at all times as they have a bearing on today's local and global food shortage and rising prices. Today's food shortages, whether local or global, are more artificial than real. Even though vast areas of cropland, especially in America and Brazil, have over the past few years been diverted to growing biofuel crops instead of foodcrops, there is still enough food produced in the world to feed each and everybody.
The problem is that the majority of people who used to grow their own food are no longer allowed to do so -- it is a deliberate man-made problem. If millions or billions are hungry, it is only because they do not have the money to buy and their countries are not able to import and distribute cheap or free food, and the rich countries are not willing to give enough food aid.
From the time warfare became an established part of organised groups and territories thousands of years ago, food has always been used a weapon. Plentiful food supply was guaranteed to the dominant race or privileged classes or the ruling ethnic group. Populations having secondary status such as the conquered or minorities of another faith, were ensured the same as long as they supported the rulers. Resentful non-farming groups could always be controlled by curtailing or curbing their food supply.
Soldiers in war have to be very well-fed to be able to maintain a high degree of strength and stamina -- which is why they get preferential treatment even in peacetime so as to be always in a state of 'preparedness'. Nothing is more effective than cutting off the food supply of enemy combatants. It can be more effective than maintaining a continuous supply of arms and ammunition. No one can fight long on an empty stomach, and human impossibility can defeat the soldier despite bravery and dedication to fight. - Which is why militaries are as particular about food supply as they are of ammunition, even though they may not talk as loudly about the former as they do of the latter.
But food as a weapon has not been restricted to militaries only. Where possible, such as places that had to import most or all of their food supplies, food caravans would be blocked or raided. Taking a cue from history, western powers - mainly former colonials, British, European and American - converted the lesson into a non-military form to control entire populations and countries - essentially those that were former colonies but are now 'independent' and 'sovereign'. Most were agricultural countries, and many were not only food self-sufficient, they were exporters of agricultural products to the colonizers' homelands and occupied territories (even if against their will). With independence they regained control not only over their own food production and supply but of their entire agriculture.
So how could the neo-colonists use food as a weapon against people who now both grew and controlled it on their own territory? They did it by indoctrinating the country leaders and governments with false 'knowledge' fabricated by theoretical 'experts' mainly in the areas of agriculture and economics. Economic theories were invented to suit the west. The first one was "export-orientation".
Whether it was the World Bank and the US experts, it was drummed into our leaderships' heads worldwide that since the South was behind in technology, it would be necessary for us to import it from the west - which off course they were not going to teach us - but which we would have to import and pay for in the form of machinery and equipment and operational know-how which was going to be very, very expensive. Technology transfer was not necessarily a part of the package. -- And so the 'backward' countries were supposed to give topmost priority to exports to the 'advanced' west so as to earn money for buying western technology.
On the surface of it, it seemed logical enough. But there were several false assumptions to it. Firstly, South Asia and many other countries were hardly 'backward'. They were very advanced in science and technology. In fact, much western technology is based or borrowed or developed or stolen from Asian and Middle-Eastern technology. The reality was that the progress of the South was arrested by colonisation. During this time the local economies were reduced to producing agricultural resources for their colonial masters and no facilities for the sciences and other progress were provided unless they directly benefited the colonials. This period of arrested development extended for between a century and two in South Asia and up to five hundred years in South America and other countries.
Secondly, the former colonisers claimed that by advocating export-orientation, they were only passing on a lesson learnt from their own successes. - That they developed and modernised and became wealthy through trade which they translated into export-orientation for the newly-independent countries.
Never was a bigger lie been so successfully promoted as economic truth. Trade is not a one-sided activity. If both sides are to gain, both have to sell something to receive something in exchange. Historically if goods weren't taken in exchange, precious metals or stones such as gold or emeralds were acceptable.
But the colonisers did not become rich and successful through "export-orientation". They couldn't possibly because they had nothing to export, or at least not much that the resource-rich Asian and South American countries needed from them. They could have traded with technology that they had further developed, but they had no desire to do that. They simply went to take whatever they wanted by force - through conquest and theft.
So what the new advisers were suggesting was pure fiction. What is astounding is that the developing country leaders (including our own) who lived through the transition period from colonisation to independence, nevertheless bought the lie. And while it is justified to earn foreign exchange to purchase what a country needs but does not have, it was certainly not justified to gear entire economies to be export-oriented which only benefited a minority of the population, namely big landlords, traders, and the urban middle-class. The entire structure of the economy was fundamentally changed that put peasants and factory workers at a disadvantage, and government policies enacted appeared as if the masses, who were also citizens, did not exist or were invisible and dispensable.
Thirdly, the World Bank and IMF and other US institutions encouraged South countries to focus on cash crops rather than foodcrops so that they could obtain the maximum foreign exchange. After all, America and some other countries could grow staples far more cheaply and feed our countries more cheaply than we could feed ourselves, they claimed. That was another lie. The price for growing oil and chemical-based food was far more expensive but it has been subsidised throughout by the US government (or rather US taxpayers kept in the dark) which then sold or gifted wheat or maize-flour to South countries so that they could concentrate on cash crops for export. The object was not only to obtain plenty of the cash-crops that the west continued to need for the necessary raw materials (such as cotton) for their industries, but to keep the South food-dependent as well.
It took Pakistan (and many similar other countries) less than three decades to create wider and chronic poverty, especially through the introduction of the fraudulent Green Revolution technology the expensive inputs of which had to be paid for with a continuous flow of foreign exchange. In effect, South Asia was incredulously and absurdly enough, persuaded to voluntarily pay a huge and continuous cash price for the privilege of growing its own crops which previously they had been producing for free for time immemorial, since it required no inputs that were not locally available!
Today, after four decades of this deception in South Asia and much of the world, we are now told by international groups of independent scientists that it was a disastrous idea. - Previously the corporate-controlled or brainwashed media simply would not print or broadcast their standpoint even though they included research studies and facts. Even so their concern was not because modern agriculture created and multiplied poverty, but because it created global warming. Although it is hitting the entire world, it is hitting the industrialised countries most of all since they too adopted the dubious 'Green Revolution' method.
Why? Because modern agriculture was completely dependent on fossil oil from the beginning to the end of the farming process, something that traditional farming was not which made use only of solar energy and human labour. Fossil fuel was not only needed to produce chemical fertilizers and pesticides (displacing locally available manure), it was also needed to power the tractors and other farm machinery, and the vehicles and ships to transport these inputs along with corporate-produced seed across great distances. Much of the fossil fuel itself had to be transported across borders and seas and refined in industrial plants before it could be used. Both processes also needed fossil fuel!
And then about a decade ago, scientists noticed that a huge ozone hole developing over the Arctic and northern-most countries, and that the climate was changing. They had reason to believe it was caused by the intensified fossil-fuel use all over the world, most of all in the industrialised countries. It was the cumulative effect of the burning of oil by vehicles and industries that heated up the environment excessively. This created more carbon dioxide than there should be in the atmosphere which in turn led to violent climate change. This climate change is already beginning to cause drought where there used to be rainfall before, or excessive rains and cyclones and flooding that prevents or destroys crops altogether.
Now we are told that our traditional farmers were doing the right thing all along. That we should go back to natural methods proven for 10,000 to 15,000 years because there are no artificial and inputs like fossil-fuel and chemicals. That these are not only neddless and unnecessarily expensive but actually poison the soil and water and wildlife and the entire environment, and kill all the necessary micro-organisms in the soil. That we have been the victims of the world's greatest agricultural hoax and are now paying the price.
Big landlords shouldn't get worried. All they need to do is dispense with the heavy and expensive farm machinery and the artificial inputs and employ peasants instead (who alone can provide the intensive labour for mixed organic crops), paying them a fair wage around the year instead of only planting and during harvest times only. -- There are plenty of valuable and in-demand year-round crops, not just a handful of staples and cash crops.
It would not only be more economical, but after a transition period of a year or two, they will obtain higher and higher yields, and be profitable beyond anything they could ever imagine from industrial farming. It's also worth remembering that organic crops, especially food and cotton, are now high-demand items in exports to the more environmentally-conscious west. No longer would food be a weapon used against us but a weapon for better trade.