The Virus of Hunger: Capitalism’s Seal and Brand

By Pasqualina Curcio

During the approximate 10 minutes it will take you to read this article, 110 people will have died of hunger in the world, which equates to a daily rate of 15,840 human beings, or nearly 6 million per year, according to Oxfam estimates. Imagine going to bed at night without having anything to eat. Imagine the anguish of a mother or father when they are unable to feed their children. Think of the pain, and even more so, think of the sense of abject helplessness caused by knowing that your child has died of hunger.

According to the recent report, entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021,by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2020, 30% of the world’s population, that is about 2.3 billion people, did not have access to adequate food supplies. The report also states that 12% of the world’s population, or 928 million people, suffered severe food insecurity during the pandemic year, and this is 148 million more people than in 2019.

The ongoing scandal of hunger in our world is made even more outrageous by the fact that, while 2.3 billion people did not have access to adequate nutrition and 6 million died from starvation during 2020, there were 2.5 billion tonnes of food that went to the dump, nothing more and nothing less than 40% of all world food production (as evidenced in the Global Fund for Nature report). Of these 2.5 billion tonnes, 1.2 billion, the equivalent to $370 billion dollars, were wasted during agricultural production processes. The rest of the waste, that is, 1.3 billion tonnes, was dumped by domestic households (61%), by food services or restaurants (26%) and by shops (13%). According to the same report, 58% of food waste in the agricultural production sector occurs in high- and middle-income countries in Europe and in North America and in other industrialized nations, despite the fact that these they have only 37% of the world’s population. In other words, the food waste in these countries is much greater in per capita terms.

Celsa Peiteado, head of the Sustainable Food program at the World Wide Fund for Nature said in July 2021: “the data is alarming: we waste enough food annually to feed everyone until 2050. We could feed all the people who go hungry on the planet more than seven times over”.

In 2016, the UN said that $267 billion would be needed each year to end hunger by 2030. Paradoxically, in the agricultural sector alone, every year $370 billion in food is thrown away. On the other hand, just as paradoxically, in 2020 the 10 richest people in the world increased their wealth by $413 billion (Forbes): to be clear, these 10 individuals increased their fortune by almost double the amount that more than 2 billion starving people would need to avoid having to go to bed without eating.

According to the estimates in the recent Oxfam report from July 2021, 11 people die every minute from hunger, a figure which exceeds the current mortality rate from Covid-19, which is running at 7 people per minute. Oxfam state: “What looked like a global crisis of public health has rapidly escalated into a severe hunger crisis that has exposed the enormous inequality of the world in which we live”. Such inequality is a consequence of the economic, social and political system that dominates our world, or rather, we could say it is specific to, and characteristic of, that system. We must insist, especially to those who regurgitate the narrative of the supposed success of capitalism versus the supposed failure of socialism, that 98% of the 195 countries recognized by the UN are capitalist, so, hunger in the world has capitalism’s seal and brand.

The problem of hunger in the world is not due to lack of food, it is caused by the unequal distribution that originates in the process of social production itself, based upon the exploitation of the worker, that generates poverty from the outset and which places systemic limitations on access to food for the vast majority of workers.

Along with the great global inequalities that lead directly to poverty and misery, conflicts and wars are also a major cause of hunger. According to the aforementioned 2021 world report on the global food crisis, around 100 million people were reduced to a state of hunger because of wars in 2020. In this hegemonically capitalist world that we live in, military spending increased 2.7% compared to 2019, the equivalent to $51,000 million, reaching $2 trillion as annual expenditure, and this increase came despite the fact that in 2020 world production fell by 3.5% (evidenced by the data published in the recent report of the Stockholm Institute for Peace in April 2021).

The five countries that spent the most, and which together accounted for 62% of all the world’s military spending, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. On average, global military spending in relation to GDP rose from 2.2% in 2019 to 2.4% in 2020. In the US, it reached an estimated $778 billion in 2020, a 4.4% increase since 2019 even though the US economy shrank 3.4% during the same period. Almost all the countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) increased their military expenditure during the pandemic.

Ending hunger in the world does not happen by giving food to the poor in a short-term, remedial way, as neoliberalism prescribes when it recommends identifying those in extreme poverty in order to bring them something to eat. Nor is it a matter of the famous proverb – which is also very capitalist by the way – that says: “don’t just give someone a fish, teach them how to fish”. Because, in reality, the problem is not that people do not know how to fish. The fisher/worker knows how to fish/work and does it well; the problem is that what they fish/the product of their labour is appropriated by the bourgeoisie in that moment and that the capitalist ruling class does not fully repay the value of our labour and efforts, and only delivers, in the best-case scenario, what is minimally necessary for the working class to survive and to reproduce itself as a class.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pasqualina Curcio is a Professor at the Department of Economic and Administrative Sciences and she is also a visiting professor at different universities including the Bolivarian Military University of Venezuela, the University of Health Sciences, the “Jesús Rivero” Bolivarian University of Workers.  She is part of the Secretariat of the Network of Intellectuals, artists and social movements in Defense of Humanity (REDH); of the Society of Latin American Political Economy (SEPLA) and of the Working Group of Social Studies for Health of CLACSO.

SOURCE: La Red en Defensa de la Humanidad