Ever since the publication of Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, slum rebellions, slum revolutions, the city-in-revolt, and similar variations of the theme have been stylishly thrown around, with the city set as the future’s political battleground. But Africa is still a mostly rural continent, and Egypt is an African country, with a third of its population engaged in agricultural production and over 50 percent still classed as rural, despite the Mubarak-era rollback of support for farmers and the concentration of agricultural plots and the subsequent re-orientation of agricultural production to agro-export. With food prices set to double by 2030, according to a new OxFam report, supporting, strengthening and augmenting the agricultural sector should be a primary task for leftist movements. Food price increases aren’t automatic: they’re a function of increasing population pressures intersecting with both demand and supply curves that are politically determined: bio-fuel plantations reduce cereal supplies, cereal-fed bovines increase demand for corn, wheat, and other crops. But “demand” emerges from conditions that are set outside of the market. There’s no reason society should be set up in such a way that corn prices reflect those of subsidized North American agribusiness, nor that the global South should be diverting agricultural production away from feeding its population and into the production of cash crops for export. Seeds need not be imported, a “choice” which sends money from farmers in the global South to the agribusiness corporations in the global North which sell them those seeds. An axis of social mobilization in the global South should be to start to de-commodify the food supply – by using government funds to both support farmers and subsidize purchases of home-grown food so that the nation’s wealth isn’t exported every time workers need to eat.
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