Capitalism can’t feed the world

photo by ECECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/CC

More food is being produced than ever before, yet world hunger has been rising since 2015 and is now back to its 2005 level of 811 million malnourished people. Nobody should go hungry. But capitalism is failing abysmally at feeding the world.

From climate change-induced famines abroad to rising reliance on food banks in the UK, amid a rapid cost-of-living crisis, the food system is in crisis as the bosses’ need to make a profit is put above our need to survive.

The surge in food prices of raw commodities like oil, coupled with the gas and energy price hikes (which have meant the cost of cooking an oven pizza has more than doubled), is proving catastrophic for ordinary working people.

The war in Ukraine has only exacerbated the problem. Some commentators and politicians have argued the need for international cooperation. But under capitalism – based on competition for profit – this is impossible on the scale required. Twenty-six countries currently have restrictions on food exports.

Food  – a commodity under capitalism

Under capitalism, food is reduced to a commodity, and it can act as one of the starkest images of inequality.

A third of the world’s workforce is employed in agriculture: from farming through to factory food production, food services, and finally the food hospitality and retail sector. But many of the people whose labour produces the food we need are barely paid enough to survive themselves.

Just four corporations own 90% of the global grain trade, and nations are morphing into super-importers and super-exporters of goods. Trade travels through just a few routes such as through the Suez and Panama canals, the Turkish Straits, and the straits of Hormuz and Malacca, which connect many places of production with places of consumption.

If these routes become vulnerable or blocked due to war or other factors, food shortages are inevitable, like the current shortages of the world’s supply of sunflower oil (Ukraine).

Add to this the issue of climate change, and it is without a doubt that food precarity is only going to get worse.

Farming techniques could play a role in reducing and reversing climate change, as soils contain twice the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. If farming methods, such as direct drilling and methods which reduce soil disturbance, were employed on a wide scale, this could have a monumental effect on carbon emissions. But these are less profitable.

It’s paramount that we loosen the grip major corporations have on the food industry. We need large farming businesses, food processors and packers, wholesalers and major supermarkets to be brought into public ownership for the future of our planet and humanity. Only the organised working class has the power to do this.

For genuine cooperation and to eliminate hunger, poverty, war, and climate destruction, for good, we need the socialist transformation of society, to reorganise society to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority, not the billionaires.

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May 2022
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