The United States government has encouraged other countries to move small-holder farmers off the land and into wage-earning jobs, so they can buy cheap, imported food. Which now, of course, is no longer cheap. Who benefits from encouraging developing countries to switch to energy-, transport- and chemical-intensive farming methods and away from farming suited to the local climate, ecosystem, and culture? I think you know.
Behind the food riots: a debate on how best to farm
Around the world, governments are trying every play in their books to stave off food riots — sending troops to hand out food in slums, ordering sweeping wage increases, banning grain exports and suspending futures trading. The United States is promising millions in emergency food aid.
But many experts call these Band-Aid solutions, saying what's needed is a radical rethink of how the world gets its food.
However, they're deeply divided about which way to go.
Some would in effect reverse the fundamentals by investing massively in small farmers, instead of letting them sink in a free-trade world. That would be very different from what the U.S. has long been evangelizing — take uncompetitive food producers off the land and put them in new jobs with paychecks that would buy them cheap food, efficiently farmed....
The pain inflicted on Mexican farmers by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was supposed to be offset by cheap grains for consumers, said Jeff Faux of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. "But when the U.S. Congress realized the potential of ethanol, corn was diverted there and Mexico was left high and dry," Faux said. "The corn turned out to be not that cheap."
The campesino federation estimates 200,000 Mexicans a year have fled the countryside for the city or the United States since NAFTA was launched in 1994.
See also: Tudor Enclosures