06/07/2008, 00.00
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World hunger, poor countries bear responsibility as well

by Anna Bono
The FAO summit reveals the tendency to view the market economy as the cause of world hunger, and the paradoxical proposal to return to already discredited subsistence economies. Meanwhile, there is silence over the "faults" of developing nations, where corruption and misgovernment are turning national wealth into the personal assets of the ruling regimes, to the detriment of the population.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In Rome, work has concluded at the FAO summit and at the usual alternative forum, this year entitled 'Terra Preta', made up of dozens of non-governmental organisations and associations of farmers, ranchers, and fisherman.  As for the FAO summit, it was clear from the very beginning that it would not produce any new strategies for the fight against hunger.  Essentially, it ended in a request for greater funding for assistance and development programs for the poorest populations on the planet, the people hardest hit by the rise in food prices.

In this regard, a pronounced tendency must be noted to attribute much of the responsibility for the food prices to industrialised countries, which are criticised for not devoting enough resources to the poor, and, moreover, for imposing the market economy on the world, thought to be the main cause for the current problems by many of those present at the summit, and by practically all of the participants at the forum.  As repeatedly stated by Jean Ziegler, former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, the fundamental error is to be sought in the provisions of the International Monetary Fund, which has forced the sacrifice of subsistence agriculture in favour of market production.

This is undoubtedly the most disconcerting aspect to emerge from the meeting in Rome. Everyone knows that subsistence economies, in addition to leading to authoritarian, gerontocratic, patriarchal social systems, are by definition fragile and often endangered economies, because of their low capacity of production. Even under optimal conditions, moreover, they ensure nothing more than subsistence, and so not the general satisfaction of needs now considered as universal rights: from potable water to electricity to modern medicine. Poverty has been defeated where subsistence economies have been abandoned and replaced with capitalistic market economies.

It also seems evident that as long as the UN conferences simply accuse the rich countries, and do not hold the leaders of developing countries responsible for their way of governing, there can be no great success in the fight against poverty. In the southern hemisphere, the limits imposed by subsistence economies are further complicated by the immense damage caused by the extremely poor administration of existing resources. In many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, corruption and misgovernment turn sometimes immense national wealth into the personal assets of the ruling regimes, which dispose of them as they please, using them to reinforce their own position and dedicating themselves to uncurbed waste and consumption. If it is impossible to calculate the sum of the resources extracted from the nation by regimes like those of Myanmar and North Korea, recent democratic openness has allowed this, for example, in Nigeria: a particularly significant case, since this is one of the largest oil producers in the world. Last year, the Nigerian commission for economic crimes revealed that since 1960, the year of independence, corruption drained about 350 billion dollars from the public coffers, and was therefore the main obstacle to development. The same is true of Angola: according to the World Bank, between 1997 and 2002, more than one fourth of the 18 billion dollars earned by the oil industry has vanished. In 2001 alone, 900 million dollars disappeared, triple the value of humanitarian aid received that year.

It is clear that situations of this kind ruin any initiative of development cooperation, Precisely for this reason, it is surprising that silence on this issue should be found at the Forum 'Terra Preta', the forum for those who suffer the most on account of the irresponsibility and cynicism of the most corrupt regimes, and where instead one witnessed the just as surprising rejection of farming innovations such as, for example, the "green revolution".

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