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Bolivia debates food security

The continuing rise in global food prices prompted the World Bank President to warn “we are one shock away from a full blown crisis”.

Even with inflation taken into consideration, cereal prices have risen above the previous record set in the middle of 2008 when food riots broke out in many countries.

Two large charities have both published reports recently on the global food situation. Christian Aid’s ‘Hungry for Justice: Fighting Starvation in an Age of Plenty’ looks at the impact of financial trading on the price of commodities. The charity calls on policy makers to investigate price increases, believing the sheer amount of money invested by financial traders in commodities is distorting prices. In addition, the report addresses issues such as climate change, land ownership and conflict.

Similar themes are covered in Oxfam’s ‘Growing a Better Future; Food justice in a resource-constrained world’. This highlights how a few hundred companies dominate the food system globally. For example, 6 firms control three quarters of agrochemicals and just 4 firms supply over half the world’s seeds. With these multinational companies focusing on large-scale food production, the needs of small-scale farmers are largely ignored. However, many developing countries rely on small holders for domestic supplies of food. Both charity reports therefore call for a massive increase in support given to small-hold farmers as a way to increase food yields and to encourage sustainable agricultural practices.

One country currently looking into the needs of its small-scale farmers is Bolivia. This week, the Bolivian government has been debating a new ‘Law of Productive, Communal and Agricultural Revolution’. The legislation is designed to improve food security in the country while at the same time protecting the environment. One key proposal to increase yields is that more genetically modified seeds should be allowed. Currently, only genetically modified (GM) soy is legal in Bolivia, but under the new law, permits would “be broadened to other products” deemed no threat to health or the environment. The government also wants to reduce reliance on international agricultural supplies and are hoping to create state-owned companies which would produce seeds locally.

Some activists are wary about expanding the use of GM crops. A spokesperson from Bolivia’s National Council for Food and Nutrition told the Guardian that Bolivia had become too dependent on monocultures and needed to protect the genetic make-up of its native crops and regain its diversified food production. He explained that 25 years ago, 70 to 80 per cent of the nation’s food was grown locally, but since the country had adopted the agro-industrial model focusing on exports, 70 to 80 of Bolivia’s food is now imported from places such as Argentina and Brazil. However, the country’s representative at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation believes the new law is a step in the right direction if it promotes conditions which “strengthen small producers”. The general consensus seems to be that if the new law is well applied, it could help Bolivia guarantee food security for its people, as well as protecting the biodiversity of its crops.

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