Despite reports to the contrary, none of this signals a new global crisis. As award-winning scientist and environmentalist Vandana Shiva observes, “Food wars are taking place everywhere, even where there are no riots, [and …] have now become so pervasive that we [don’t] see the conflicts at a daily level that are triggered by the way food is produced, processed, and distributed.” It is not for a lack of food that the world goes hungry, but the absence of justice.
It was not surprising that the question of how to achieve food security was at the top of French President Sarkozy’s agenda at his recent meeting with US President Obama, and his top goal for the G20. Interestingly enough, both Sarkozy and Shiva view food speculation as one cause of food insecurity. But the solutions proposed by World Bank President Zoellick raise questions about whose security would, in fact, be protected: "We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices," says Zoellick, who wants “the G20 to recognize a larger role for development banks, such as the World Bank, in changes dealing not only with the immediate needs of poor countries faced with higher food prices, but in improving agricultural productivity.” But such a strategy, warns Shiva, would only increase food insecurity: “When food becomes a commodity, profits become the essence, and people’s right to food is extinguished in the ruthless search for maximizing profit.”
This appeal for “further development” obscures the crucial role played by development itself in originating and maintaining, even accelerating, our food crisis. With a compelling analysis of the connection between the violent marginalization of women—who grow most of the world’s food—and the global food wars, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (South End Press) proposes real solutions for genuine food security based on the principles of “sustainability, justice, and peace.” Shiva explores the history of western-style “development,” revealing how over the past 500 years “the unbridled pursuit of progress, guided by science and development, began to destroy life without any assessment of how fast and how much of the diversity of life on this planet is disappearing.”
Critical of corporate agriculture’s limitations and dangerous excesses, Shiva champions the strength and resilience of diverse crops adapted to diverse environments, and the deep significance of women's knowledge, labor, and power in ensuring food justice before it’s too late. As she predicted over 20 years ago, “Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is a survival imperative.”
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Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development
by Vandana Shiva
South End Press, $16 paperback