Midweek Review
A violence-free world: Incompatible with poverty and empty bellies

by Dr. Mervyn D. de Silva
Throughout recorded history hunger and starvation whether caused by droughts, floods, wars, natural disasters, or poverty begotten by an economic paradigm, have caused widespread and intense suffering to a large proportion of humanity. In earlier eras, societies down the corridors of time have endured to face the advent of food shortages precipitated by wars, droughts, floods, and natural disasters, by keeping massive store-houses of grain as an insurance against leaner years as the ancient Egyptian and Roman political authorities did.

Traditional societies which depend on subsistence agriculture had also devised efficient strategies to carry them through lean periods that occur typically, just after planting and just before harvest, to obviate the agonies of hunger the people would otherwise have to undergo. These are coping mechanisms that were in place then, but in this extraordinary age of scientific progress when hunger could be ended, it has not. The increasingly rigid ideology that dominates current economic development and trade stands in the way. Development practitioners, who are not under the spell of the IMF and World Bank in most third world countries and who understand the development process and canvassed the formulation of appropriate sound development politicies, will not hesistate to agree. The current deplorable levels of third world poverty is largely, if not solely, the result of polcies based on an inappropriate concept of development as well as a limited understanding of third world poverty seen from the perspective of those who experience it.

Although the past century was a period of unprecedented population growth, their was substantial progress in the efforts to produce more food through intensified agriculture and ensure its access to all human beings. In fact, many Third World countries stepped up their domestic agriculture and the production of food by applying the technology that grew out of the Green Revolution. Based originally on the work on maize by U. S. Scientists in the 1930s, the research extended to wheat and corn in Mexico during the 1940s, and subsequently, to rice in Asia in the early 1960s. Development assistance and investment helped to introduce the new high-yielding varieties, actually high-inputs of high-cost chemicals, to many Third World countries. The high-cost chemical fertilizers and agro chemicals being manufactured and exported by the industrialised countries of the First World.

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, the Green Revolution did not benefit the vast number of the smallscale farmers who could not afford, and still do not, the wide range of expensive inputs that must be utilised in order to realise seed varietal potentials. The new seed varieties, fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides, and we dicides, and the equipment for application were beyond the reach of most small holders in the largely rural areas of the world. Those who attempted to invest on them in an unpredictable market situation, invariably got into debt, and in desperation, ended their lives — under the "patronage" of their governments, the IMF, the World Bank, and its network of money lenders.

The past decades have also seen the volume of agricultural production doubling and world agricultural trade increasing by three to four fold with world per caput availability of food increasing from 2,300 kilocalories per day in the early 1960s, to approximately 2,700 kilocalories as at present, and inspite of an increase of over 2400 million people in the world’s population. Thus, while in theory there is enough food to meet the food requirements of the entire planet, food is not reaching everyone and there are 800 million people who do not have enough to eat, 500 million people who go to bed hungry each day, 500 million people who are chronically undernourished, 40 million children who die of starvation and 158 million children under 5 years of age who are seriously malnourished.

Given contemporary technological advances that are inundating state departments, the corporate sector, classrooms and homes, it does not appear to be beyond the collective imagination of the leaders of the G-7 countries, other economically associated powerful countries, the entire UN-system and, of course, the tamed or apathetic leaders of Third World Countries (South Africa’s Mandela/MBeki being exceptions) to find and implement positive courses of action by placing poverty and food security central to the development process: Enough of IMF and World Bank bitter pills.

On the other hand, how do many in the industrialised west face up to the serious questions of worsening hunger and poverty, land degradations, rural migration, urban sprawls, pollution, and inequality and poverty that is now recognised as the primary economic determinants of crime and violence?

It is the population explosion that has been the favourite scapegoat that is tossed around and is used as an excellent excuse to duck hard questions addressed to the enthroned economic model and the stale IMF-World Bank recipes. The World Bank policies for Third World development are blind to the myriad of causal factors in the poverty cycle. Whereas, the fundamental root cause is the dominant economic paradigm they are in planting with missionary zeal throughout the Third World, but only, to strangle the poor in the poor countries. The international trading policies (WTO), the unfair political pressures of the strong against the weak between nations and within nations, the entwining world financial system and the business nexus, and at a deeper level, selfishness contribute in no small measure. Selfishness is the greatest curse of the Human Race said Gladstone, Statesman, and four times Prime Minister of England.

UN population projections to the year 2015 range from a low 7.1 billion people to a high 7.8 billion people with 95% of that growth in the Third World with resources and societies already under very considerable stress. While pessimists, ranging from Thomas Malthus who first wrote "The Population Explosion" in 1798 to, more recently in 1994 — Lester Brown and Hall Kane in their report "Full House: Re-assessing the earth’s carrying capacity", sounded alarm; other voices, claim that the population problem is not the only cause and that it is the rapacious consumerism in the North that is the real problem. A line of argument in harmony with Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking that there is enough god-given resources for man’s needs, but not for man’s greeds.

There is general consensus in some circles that the problem of hunger and food inadequacy are issues that cannot be tackled through one single strategy or approach and much of the "marketed" approach, the biological science and technology approach, of increasing yields in plant and animal production by high yielding and high-input-requiring-high-tech-agriculture and animal husbandry, is also inadequate. For land tenure, the international politics of food and food-"aid", conflict of interests, class relations, the manipulative thrusts of the North and International organisations, are also of import, but not in isolation. It is only when all these issues and facts are placed within a social framework do they have meaning at all. Then, the connections between socio-economic issues, food inaccessibility, food shortages, and poverty will be clearly understood.

The current deplorable levels of world poverty, so exhaustively documented in a multiplicity of reports put out by fifty-seven (57) years of the IMF and World Bank guidance and policies. Policies based on inappropriate concepts of development and its prescriptions shows that it has a distorted understanding of the complexities of current development issues in countries of the Third World that had their own systems — to ensure some stability and security to its people.

Many Third World leaders, knowingly or through ignorance, have been lured into a total surrender to the dominant Neo-liberal mode of thinking. That is to say, not to equally reject it in toto, but not to become so preoccupied with this single paradigm that is, the maximisation of resource allocation through the market with minimal government intervention. This attitude (open economy with closed minds) supports Multinational Corporations, export plantations, large private domestic agricultural farms, and looks for export-led agriculture and industries to relieve pressure on the balance of payments. If the approach is successful why are their IMF food riots in many parts of the Third World?

In Sri Lanka, there was a time when the rural farmers, the urban poor, and the many below the poverty line had — lobbying strength with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP), the Ceylon Communist Party (CP), and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP). Despite some of their extremist economic and social policies they served an important purpose and played an equally important role as a check to the rigid ideology of current economic thinking. But, now, having betrayed those segments of the population and totally embraced the same policies and attitudes of the right-wing United National Party lock stock and barrel, and much more, there seems to be little hope of our country shifting towards a more moderate, sober, balanced, rational and national development paradigm. And, perhaps, if we refuse to pay more attention to the vulnerable have-nots because it is not only morally right but also politically necessary and prudent, we may have to pay the price of IMF-riots and other eruptions of crime and violence.

While the old left, the LSSP, the CP and the MEP, are seen as mere spectators unrepentant of their pole vaulting, paying homage to the new UNP (UNP+PA) economic policies and attitude, the "true" SLFPers are silent on the economic and social issues of the day.

The Third World debt problem (Argentina) is bound to trigger a new financial crisis and a deepening global slump with serious effects on the Third World and its already restless have-nots. There is a lot of research now available to show that there is a strong relationship between crime and violence and an inequitable distribution of development and wealth. It has been shown that in Latin American countries where there is already a high rate of crime and violence, a five-point increase in the Gini Coefficient, ie, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, increased the incidence of crime and violence.

If corrective changes are postponed a recrudescence of violent eruptions with high social costs cannot be ruled out in our country, as well as in other Third World countries.

The so-called leftist "Representatives" and left-of-centre-SLFPers (if any) might ponder on the "holy words" of George Soros, one of the World’s leading capitalists had to say about the free market, for which the IMF and World Bank has been the vehicle, and its threat to contemporary civil society.

"I now fear that the untrammelled intensification of laissez faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society. The main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat".

Food for thought and a warning to be heeded.