Interview with Jean Ziegler by Gilles Toussaint
Introduction and translation by Siv O’Neall
The victims are the poor, the former subsistence farmers in Africa who have been deprived of their land and whose countries now have to import food at exorbitant prices, due to the speculation in agricultural commodities resulting in the skyrocketing food prices today. The criminals are the World Bank and other banks and supranational organizations who collude with the Multinational Corporations to rob the poor all over the world in the most cold-blooded heist ever seen. The third-world countries are forced to grow what these all-powerful institutions want to buy from them in order to be able to pay off the interests on the poisoned loans that have been extended to them – for the benefit of the West, certainly not of the poor countries themselves. What is left of their money after the payments on those loans have been made is far from enough to feed their people. Hunger and widespread malnutrition is the result of this Corporate theft.
If there were more individuals like Professor Jean Ziegler in this world, men and women who make their voices heard, maybe we would have a chance to put an end to the murderous rule of the Corpocrats, this totally monstrous situation that we are in today. Hunger and malnutrition, the horror that Jean Ziegler fights against with seemingly limitless energy and firm commitment are the source of unimaginable suffering and marginalization of the poor. Among other perfectly inhuman effects of poverty and subsequent malnutrition is the cruelly disfiguring disease called noma, which Professor Ziegler has exposed in a separate report to the UN. The disparity in income levels that has become the norm today is perfectly accepted, and even intended, by the tiny percentage of the world population that now decides what is going to become of the earth. The welfare nets that have been existing, even in the United States to some extent, are now gradually but increasingly eroding, whereas the Corporations are busy devouring the money that’s pouring in from the selling of wars and the exploitation of cheep foreign labor.
The Corpocrats, the speculators, the ones who are busy making the world into a casino, have no intention of ever considering the fates of the people. The only thing they are set on is amassing huge wealth, even if it will be the end of the world we live in.
Jean Ziegler: “The cannibal world order”
October 16 marks the World Food Day. Hunger is not inevitable, says Jean Ziegler.
Jean Ziegler was passing through Brussels on Friday to promote his new book Mass Destruction – The Geopolitics of Hunger (Editions Seuil) in which the former UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food delivers an uncompromising analysis of the roots of world hunger.
Interview with Gilles Toussaint
This book seems to be the assessment you have made from your eight years as Special Rapporteur to the UN. The impression that emerges is of a certain disillusionment …
This book should provide a plan for how to save the victims of hunger and expose the enemies of the right to food, the cold monsters of the agri-food trade. Today, ten companies control the food trade in the world. I try to provide the weapons for fighting those companies and also provide elements of hope. But also, on a more intimate level, I am trying to say where I have been a traitor.
The final outcome is not encouraging …
It is quite contradictory. Hunger in the world is the scandal of our time. Thirty-five million people die each year from hunger or its immediate aftermath. As we are speaking, a child under 10 dies of hunger every 5 seconds. Nearly one billion people are permanently severely malnourished and the situation is becoming increasingly catastrophic. And this is happening on a planet where agriculture is capable of feeding 12 billion people. This is therefore a personal failure. This is not today a question of inevitability. A child who dies of hunger is a child murdered. On the other hand, the awareness of this horror is increasing. There are more and more people who understand that hunger is man-made, that we live in a cannibal world-order maintained by multinational companies and their mercenary organizations, that is, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. I think we are close to a wide-spread rebellion of conscience.
Do you think the hunger in the world today is the result of a choice, one that stems from neo-liberal economics?
Totally. Historically, we had three stages. Until the Second World War, the theories of pastor Malthus saying that there was a law of necessity that prevailed. He said the wars and famines are horrible, but necessary, otherwise there would be overpopulation. It was a sort of natural self-regulatory mechanism. This theory has been accepted into the church because it magnificently justified Western colonialism and the ruling oligarchy of the world. Then, thanks to Hitler, horrible though it sounds, there was an awakening of conscience. Because the Nazi monsters used the weapon of hunger to kill Europeans who thus learned about hunger themselves. At the end of the war, there was a political awakening that led to the recognition of the right to food in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). But now the obscure laws of neoliberal economics are seen as being innately natural and the market decides. According to this theory, liberalizing the market, privatizing the public sector, the forces of production will increase and hunger will ultimately be eradicated. This is obviously an absolute lie. Globalization and liberalization of every shade and color have made extraordinary progress over the last twenty years and, at the same time, hunger has increased, whereas it should have been the opposite, according to the neoliberal hollow rhetoric. We must intervene and destroy this cannibalistic world order to put an end to all the mechanisms that kill. We must, for example, ban the burning of food to make biofuels.
Should speculation in food commodity markets be limited?
Yes. Since the financial crash of 2008, sovereign funds, hedge funds and big banks are now turning to the stock exchanges of agricultural materials for profit and this has made prices skyrocket. In Geneva, which is the Ali Baba treasure cave for these speculators, if you go to the UBS investment bank, they offer you investment in rice certificates that will guarantee a 37% capital gain! All this in a completely legal manner, even if it is morally unacceptable. These speculators should be brought to justice for crimes against humanity! While nations have mobilized in order to bail out the banks by pouring into their empty coffers billions of dollars, the World Food Programme (WFP) lost half of its funding in 2008. Today, in East Africa, 12.4 million people are on the verge of collapse from hunger. The UN refugee camps are turning away hundreds of families every day for lack of resources. And speculators are two times responsible for this. Indeed, not only has the WFP lost half of its budget, but it must also buy 85% of the food it distributes on the world market where prices have gone through the roof due to speculative activities.
Another worrying trend is that of land grabbing …
Last year, 41 million hectares of arable land were appropriated by investment funds and multinational companies in Africa alone. The result has been the expulsion of small farmers. What must be denounced is the role of the World Bank, but also that of the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, which financed the land thefts. In order to justify this theft they hide behind a shameful theory, which says that agricultural productivity is very low in Africa. This is true. But this is not because African farmers are less competent than French or Walloon farmers. It is because these countries are strangled by their foreign debt. So they have no money to build up reserves in case of disasters or to invest in subsistence agriculture. It is entirely false to claim that the solution will come from the sale of land to multinationals. What must be done is put these countries in a position to invest in agriculture and give their farmers the minimal tools to increase productivity: tools, irrigation, improved seeds.
What are finally the reasons for hope?
Hope is twofold. There is firstly the emergence of a peasant uprising represented by the movement Via Campesina, which represents nearly 135 million small farmers around the world. This movement has come up with a very concrete project, a Convention on the rights of farmers, and brought it to the United Nations. This proposal will be debated in March by the Council of Human Rights, which must decide whether to make it an instrument of international law. This is obviously a difficult and uncertain process, but I am convinced that this agreement will eventually be realized and it will become a powerful weapon. On the other hand, the dominant countries are democracies, even if their democratic values stop at their borders to make way for the laws of multinational corporations. However, these democracies are not powerless. Any of these mechanisms can be broken by the democratic will of public opinion. We could vote right away on total debt relief for the poorest countries. You can also decide that only the actual players can trade in the agricultural commodity markets, those who deliver the goods [and not the speculators]. Hunger can easily be removed democratically and peacefully in a short period of time.
 Jean Ziegler is a professor emeritus in sociology at the University of Geneva and at the Sorbonne, Paris. He has been leading a long and passionate fight for justice and humanity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2000 to 2008 and, since then, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee, where he works as an expert on economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food.
Professor Ziegler is a prolific author of books at first in particular dealing with the dire situation of hunger in Africa. Since 1964 he has written innumerable books, among which “Sociology of the New Africa”, “The Living and the Dead”, “Pillage on Africa”, “Turn the Guns Around”, “The new rulers of the world and those who resist them”, “The Empire of Shame” (not translated into English), “Hatred of the West” (not translated into English), and most recently, published October 13, 2011, “Mass Destruction – The Geopolitics of Hunger”.
 Causes of Poverty – by Anup Shah – This Page Last Updated Saturday, September 24, 2011. Anup Shah lists the following facts:
- Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day .
- The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined .
- Nearly a billion people entered the 21 st century unable to read a book or sign their names .
- Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen .
- 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services . 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).
Source – original text in French: La libre Belgique
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