Miriam Morris Boadu

An Indonesian Story: The Scandal of Hunger and Poverty - 
And What Is Being Done About It

 - "Half of the world's inhabitants live in poverty." 
 - "[A]t the  Millennium Summit [in 2000], governments committed themselves to reduce by half, by 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme  poverty.”
- "[W]e must work together to eradicate hunger and work towards improving social conditions in rural areas. Only then can we achieve long lasting peace and  [...] the establishment of a more just and tolerant  society.” (1)

This year, a renowned British Institute specializing in poverty research
and concerned about the effects of world poverty on the poor
themselves, their 'Third World' rulers and the security and business
interests of the so-called 'First World', made accessible what amounts to
a summary of a report on Indonesia.(2)  It flashes a red light, warning
that there are still "some 40 million people" who are struggling to survive
conditions of poverty in Indonesia, that is to say, in one of the few countries
'successfully' integrated (they claim) into the 'global factory' of 
internationalized capital during the last two or three decades. 

The fact highlighted here – that millions of poor people are forced to live
below the official poverty line invented by experts and based on their
(questionable) statistics – is of apparent concern to the pundits of poverty
research.  After all, many if not most Western experts (people who are by 
and large immersed in mainstream thought, and whom we may take perhaps
as willing or unwilling accomplices of Western political and economic 
interests), have long been holdling on to the fashionable tenet that 
'globalization', naïve and enthusiastic trust in market forces freed of all
regulations, in combination with increased foreign investment and a
development strategy based on an export-oriented economy will sooner
or later wipe out poverty. As commercial ties get stronger and more
important, as more profits (and thus wealth) accrue to transnational
corporations engaged in mining, the oil industry, agribusiness, trade,
banking,  while there is a ‘take-off’ of industrial production  as well,
a larger share will apparently go to local 'Third World' elites, to
people in top government positions, in the military, to local
subcontractors, local ventures operating all kinds of businesses (including
plantations), etc. And the 'trickle down effect' will see to it that the
middle classes will get their modest share of the pie, making them more
able to buy stuff from street vendors, visit prostitutes, give alms to
charitable organizations. In other words, the crumbs from the table will
finally reach the poor, alleviating their poverty to a level that would
make it more bearable for the rich. Less disgusting, even more easy to
overlook, less hygienically problematic and socially (or should one say,
politically) less 'dangerous.' 

The experts from the renowned British institute specializing 'in poverty'
(for 'specialization' in a society where everybody with a scientific bend is
supposed to be myopic, to have a narrow but highly focused and
concentrated, that is 'deep' view of his field, his tiny segment of 'reality';
indeed such short-sightedness and blindness to the overall reality is
deemed essential) have not failed to denounce the important Fuehrer, Mr. S, 
whom they credit with the astounding economic successes of Indonesia 
which they want to rub under our nose. Good to know that everything 
depends on 'one leader' in world history, as well as in regional (or should 
one say, 'national'?) history. 

While slyly criticizing the late Indonesian dictator as "venal and vicious," 
Now that he is out of power and no longer their dearly trusted “man in
Jakarta,” the picture of Indonesian economic development during the 
'New Order' era which they choose to paint is very positive, indeed.

       " For Suharto achieved some 30 years of growth and poverty reduction. 
        [...] Poverty and hunger fell steadily. From 1967 to 1996 per capita 
        income rose by 5 per cent a year, with those below the poverty line 
        seeing their income rise at the same rate (or more). From the mid 1970s 
        to the mid-1990s,  poverty fell from 40% to 11% — one of the most 
        successful episodes of pro-poor growth in history (see World Bank)."(3) 

While these Western experts highlighting the 'economic success' of the 
New Order regime were obviously closing their eyes to the fact that the
benefits of growth were distributed in the most inequitable  fashion in
Indonesia no less than elsewhere (it is simply not true that income rise of
the poor was faster than that of the business community, or even the
national average), no one in his right mind can overlook the fact that the
boom period that brought an upswing in some 'newly emerging markets'
was followed by a sharp crisis. 

Apparently, the front side (or glossy side) of the model of development
chosen by the American government, their Indonesian general, and the
World Bank for Indonesia could not be had without the back side.(4)
Looking back to the years of doom that followed the 'fat' years when the
business and bureaucratic 'elite' had been pampered, the head of the
Indonesian delegation, recently [i.e., in 2002] speaking at the 25th Session 
of the Governing Council of IFAD, described the impact of the crisis that 
had struck the country five years earlier in the bleakest terms. "[T]he 
[...] economic crisis that engulfed the country since 1997 has been worse 
than anyone had  previously envisaged" (5) , he said, noting that 

      "[t]he banking sector [had] virtually collapsed forcing the Government 
       to recapitalise it at a cost that has already exceeded approximately 
       USD 67 billion [ by 2002]. The corporate sector came to a virtual halt 
       due to the restructuring of large amounts of foreign currency debt that 
       was  accumulated during the boom years of the early 1990s. [In other
       words, the speculative boom was financed by expensive credits.] [...] 
       Socially, the impact of the financial crisis has been  painfully felt with 
       GDP per capital falling to less than USD 700 in 2001 from USD 1.100 
       in 1997." (6) 

In other words, as a result of the crisis, the average Gross Domestic Product 
(per capita) had falled by  more than 36 %. How much of the gain previously 
achieved, how many years of celebrated progress had been wiped out? A 
progress who had benefitted above all the ‘happy’ few, both in Indonesia and
(even more so) abroad – while the cost of it, the loss, was to become, above all,
a burden for the poor majority, in good times and even more so, in bad ones.

If you should be tempted to think that the bad times that overwhelmed Indonesia
with the onslaught of the crisis of 1997 were over by 2002, you are mistaken. By 
2002,  the hard times were not at all over. The opposite was true. 

    "Many believe that the full impact is yet to be fully seen," 

the head of Indonesia's delegation told the Governing Council of IFAD.(7) 
And he became even more specific, pointing out that 

   "[a]mong the biggest consequences of the economic crisis has been the 
    deterioration of the Government's budget. At a time when more Government 
    spending was needed to help lessen the economic hardships brought about by 
    the crisis on the poor, social expenditures were reduced. [Sic!] Even today, 
    due to the heavy debt burden that the Government must now service, few 
    resources are left to help finance development and poverty reduction 

In other words, in a situation that was still painfully difficult both for the
poor and for those in government who perhaps wanted to alleviate their
plight, the entire effort, in the aftermath of the crisis, was obviously
targeted at (1.) helping the business community, (2.) servicing the
external debt of the government, and (3.) restructuring the banking sector
(at the cost of US $ 67 billion up to the year 2002, with further
unforeseeable expenditures lying still ahead). The consequence was that
practically no help is available for the many millions of needy people in
Indonesia, apart from ‘charitable’ help from foreign donors and promised
emergence programs from international organizations. Among these,
we must especially mention the assistence of IFAD whose current 
development portfolio at the time was close to  US $ 60 million or 
not even 10 % of the cost of restructuring the banking sector (let alone 
ervicing the foreign debt). (9)  And then, of course, Kinder
Mission Werk is also giving 18,000 Euros in support of the hungry and  in 
addition to this, Frauen Mission Werk is helping out with  about 3000
Euros (in payment for Indonesian hand-made clothes sold in Germany):
A wonderful sign of largesse from one of the riches countries of the world,
and beautiful aid to the poor in East Nusa Tenggara whom the government
cannot afford to feed any longer or support with the smallest sums, in view
of the billions of dollars they have to pay, largely to benevolent “lenders” in
the West.(10)

In view of this, we would like to know how much foreign speculators
made when they let down East and South East Asia, triggering the crisis.

                                             *      *     * 

So, unsurprisingly, it was the poor which were hardest hit by the crisis
which in 1997 had braked speculative growth in the briefly 'promising'
areas of East and South East Asia all of a sudden.(11) 

As always, the wealthy and powerful knew how to shift some of the
losses incurred onto the weakest shoulders, and those of the lower middle
class. Subsidies in Indonesia (for instance those ominous subsidies
criticized by the World Bank at the time that put cooking oil a
little bit less out of reach of the  poor) were cut at the behest of
international lenders. The number of those officially admitted to be
below the poverty line, quickly doubled,  according to the Brooks World
Poverty Institute.(12) This was not astonishing, as unemployment soared
and disposable income fell drastically. While the rupiah was devalued
under pressure from the World Bank (a strategy rejected for good reason
by Malaysia) and revenue from imports fell, the prices of imported
commodities rose. Price inflation affecting basic needs of the population
worsened this picture. 

This is not the time and the place to explore this aspect of the matter in
greater depth. So much is clear: The shift of production relying on cheap
(and cheapest) labor, from locations that were becoming "too expensive"
for internationalized capital in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s, had come 
to an (at least temporary) halt. Many ladies garments workers, in Jakarta, 
for instance, were sacked; a situation  that meant they were faced with 
immediate need and possibly hunger, as low wages paid in a capital where 
even the poor face comparatively  high costs of living hadn't enabled them 
to 'save'. 
There are no unemployment  benefits for those made redundant which 
means that such people are immediately forced to find strategies of survival 
for themselves – from becoming street vendors to becoming prostitutes, or 
returnees to their native villages.(13) 
But here, in the countryside, the crisis also had a crushing impact: Earnings 
For cash crop farmers were going down at the time, no matter whether they
produced for foreign markets or the home market; the former being affected 
by the rate of exchange of the rupiah, the second by falling incomes and
therefore, falling demand. 

                                          *      *      *

We all know that the 'successful' economic development of the 1980s
and early '90s that is celebrated in the media and by Western experts and
that ended into a painful crisis was not of the making of a single leader,
least of all a greedy general like Soeharto. Western investors were 
frantically looking for investment opportunities. They had come to discover, 
one by one, such bonanzas (dubbed by them, and the media ‘emerging’ 
markets’) as Taiwan (a part of China, then under K.M.T. authority), 
South Korea, Hong Kong, and from these springboards investment spread 
to other, neighboring areas promising what they were, at the time, looking for. 
The ‘safety’ and ‘stability’ and ‘security for their investment’ of dictatorships 
or, putting it more mildly, authoritarian governments, proscription of trade 
unions, persecution of labor activists and ‘troublemakers’, cheapest wagers 
combined with strong curbs making next to impossible each and every social 
protest, low or zero import duties for parts and components imported into 
“export processing zones”, low or zero taxes, no barriers against the repatriation 
of profits, and so on and so forth. 

The awakened interest in Indonesia as a possible target for  investments came 
step by step, or in phases. The first significant investment, after the renewed 
influence of international capital (and especially U.S. as well as Japanese 
capital) in Indonesia was allowed to make itself felt as a consequence of the 
1965 coup d'état engineered by the Johnson administration, occurred in the oil 
sector, the mining sector, the plantation sector since the late 1960s. The coup 
had in fact turned the former Dutch colony from a non-aligned republic where 
foreign firms had been nationalized into a country wide open to neo-colonialist 
influence, and foreign capital continued in those fields that had already been of 
interest to them in colonial times, and the early phase of independence. The 
astonishing fact, to some theorists of dependency, was perhaps that investment 
strategists did not perpetuate their old games. With abundant capital at hand 
in the West in the 1990s that was eagerly ‘searching’ for lucrative opportunities 
even if they involved high risks, ‘new markets’ had to be found. There was 
probably only a trickle of ‘productive’ capital from the West, flowing to 
Indonesia. But with transnationally operating corporations embracing, more and 
more, the concept of the ‘global factory,’ it was clear that local subcontractors 
who would set up factories and produce cheap goods for export markets, relying 
on cheap labor, were an answer to their needs that had been tested already in 
places like Taiwan. And the model could be transferred to Indonesia. 
Indonesians would need a lot of capital to set up shop as subcontractors.(14) 
It was a real opportunity for Western (and Japanese) private financial lenders: 
Lucrative, high-interest loans, a boom, a chance to participate in the regional 
stock markets (Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur…) – all of this 
was driving up profits for private internationally operating banking corporations, 
as well as the investment funds(15)  and  the new hedge funds. What evolved, 
in this way, was an economy not less but more dependent on international 
capital, a dependent economy. 

                                                  *        *        *

So did this really mean a sudden and vast influx of foreign capital which would
bring about belated, sustained industrialization, an industrialization which the 
Dutch obviously had failed to produce (if not ‘obstructed’)? 

The answer to this important question is that at first, in the immediate aftermath
of the coup, the industrial sector apparently got very little encouragement. As 
was typical at the time and still is typical in the case of many so-called Third 
World countries, extractive industries (mining, oil exploration) ranged on top of 
the list of foreign investors. In addition, the plantation economy was revitalized. 
Timber harvesting and timber exports gained a renewed importance. A recent 
report typically notes the damage brought by the significant upturn of the 
export-oriented timber industry – a fatal occurrence that is all but a thing of the 
past in Indonesia. Indeed, 

       "timber and the massive environmental damage of unsustainable logging — 
       which still goes on —  [are still] making Indonesia the third largest emitter 
       of greenhouse gases after the United States and China".(16) 

Apparently, there weren't (and still aren’t) many jobs that would result as a 
spin-off of such investment in logging, in mining, in refining, and similar 
sectors.  And, as is equally obvious, investment in textile industry, in 
plastics industry, and so on took some time to arrive; the number of jobs 
created in such sectors never sufficed to significantly lower the unemployment 
rate.  In spite of the ‘new’ (and in part, now defunct) industries brought by the
boom periods of the 1980s and early to mid 1990s, the percentage of the 
population living in the countryside is still high, and this despite a strong 
influx of the rural poor into the cities. As elsewhere in the so-called ‘Third
World’, the informal sector in the large Indonesian cities is probably a 
'bigger employer' (or a more important pathway to minimal incomes) for 
poor urban dwellers than is the industrial sector. 

What great success, then, has the Soeharto regime achieved? What effects? – 
other than those profiting foreign capital which for the first time since 
Independence found the door wide open in Indonesia, enabling these firms 
to acquire (in fact, 'steal') precious trees and various minerals, including gold, 
for next to nothing.  And run or more likely, control indirectly, in the last phase 
of the New Order, a certain number of “cheap-labor-driven” factories? 

Yes, this last fact would cause envy in those ‘Third World’ countries still 
almost entirely ignored by international capital, apart from their mineral 
resources, the plantation economy, and the genetic wealth of their fauna. 

We must underline that this effect (the establishment of factories relying on 
cheap labor) was ambiguous: 
- It cyclically increased employment ‘opportunities’ for the poor, but it also 
increased dependency on (a) exports of factory-produced goods and (b) foreign 
loans that propelled the relatively fast expansion of the industrial sector. 
- It supplied poor people with tiny but still marginally improved incomes and 
thus a slightly larger degree of security or stability in their lives (until the crash 
came). But it also tended to cause health hazards both on the job and in the 
living quarters of the poor, because of lack of safety regulations and good 
work standards, long overtime, exposure to hazardous substances in the factory, 
and environmental pollution often affecting the kampongs adjacent to “industrial 
zones.” This goes for the shoe industry, the textile industry, the plastics industry 
(with P.E.sickness as a well-known work-related ailment among workers), and 
other branches of industry. 
- Apart from providing profits (and implying certain risks) for foreign
investors, the development of the industrial sector benefitted above all some 
ethnic-Chinese capitalists who branched out from trade and banking into 
export-oriented industry. But  their prominent role as industrialists (no big shots, 
necessarily, for apart from the biggest, they usually were merely small or 
mid-sized subcontractors producing for large Western corporations, turning out 
shoes or shirts for Nike, Adidas, etc.), and the way most of them appeared to 
‘wax  richer’ in the boom period, created adverse feelings among the poor 
indigenous population. From this anger, it was not so much the tiny stratum
 of  rich Chinese capitalists in their well-garded compounds which would 
suffer, but the middle-class and the poorer members of the ethnic-Chinese 
community in Indonesia.(17)

Western experts see another ‘great success’ of the Soeharto regime,
apart from killing between half a million and a million ‘Third Worldists,’
Soekarno-style nationalist,  'Communists' or other left-wingers, their
family members and people who had nothing to do with politics. And
apart from opening the 'door' to foreign capital. The Soeharto regime, they 
claim, eradicated or at least drastically reduced the scourge of hunger. 

According to a Western report, "Hunger stalked the land in the mid-60s". 
Of course this is not surprsing. It was typical of all so-called Third World 
countries at the time, including India and China. It was part of a heritage
left by the West and Japan. The war and, before it,  the period of colonial (or
semi-colonial) exploitation had their own long-lasting after-effects. So had, 
ever since independence, Western policies of strangulating the economies 
of adversaries. And the non-aligned countries embracing a particular kind of 
"socialism" (though not the same as that of  Russia or "Red" China) certainly 
were regarded as "unfriendly" non-partners.(18) 

So now, after blaming the Soekarno government for a still-existing heritage 
of conditions causing, again and again, widespread hunger (in Taiwan, at the 
time, the Americans produced "butter Christians," handing U.S. butter and 
other foodstuff to those who converted to Christianity; a nice example of the 
link between food aid, hunger, and subservience), Western exports are fond of 
crediting the Soeharto regime with getting "the rice economy back to work 
[...]"(19) This is certainly a claim that deserves closer scrutiny.

Apart from the implied ‘stability’ of the New Order regime (a stability based 
on  a bloodbath of genocidal proportions that re-established the ‘confidence of
investors’ in Indonesia and its now pro-U.S. government),  an explanatory factor 
of the improvement regarding the necessary eradication of hunger is attributed 
to Indonesian oil exports that began to play a bigger role after 1965, given the 
interest of American oil corporations in this commodity. These exports are said 
to have benefitted, above all, the Indonesian countryside: 

      "Once the economy stabilized in the late 1960s, it grew strongly, with the 
       oil revenues being reinvested into rural villages through infrastructure and 

As a consequence, in view of hopefully fair and considerable oil revenues, 
received over a period of  early 43 years, Indonesia should today have a fantastic 
health and sanitary, educational, and  traffic infrastructure, down to the village 
level, a fact that would lower the pressure of the rural population to seek an 
escape from backwardness and misery in the cities. The opposite is obviously 
the case. Infrastructure in the poor kampongs of the big cities is utterly deficient, 
and in the countryside the situation is bad, as well, though in different ways. 
The inadequate quality of the health, sanitary and education infrastructure 
obviously affects the health of the population, and here especially that of the 
poor, while the health question is in turn interrelated with the hunger question. 
Healthy people tend to cope better in periods of starvation, but people suffering 
from extended periods of malnutrition or starvation also tend to see their health 

As  for the eradication of hunger (an issue in Indonesia as well as elsewhere in 
the so-called ‘Third World’), the claim that the New Order regime brought about 
some significant progress warrants, as we said, close attention and exacting 

Hunger no longer stalked the land, the experts in the West say. But what is 
really claimed to have brought progress to Indonesia (and the same might be 
claimed in the case of the poverty-stricken Philippines), is that wonderful 
American invention, the "Green Revolution." "Green Revolution technologies" 
are supposed to have accelerated rural development. It is a story often told but 
to repeat it does not add to its credibility. Both alternative experts in the West 
and in Asia and a considerable number of peasants and farm workers have 
questioned the assertion that there are no native, traditional plant varieties that 
equal or even surpass “Green revolution technology” related seeds. Those who 
questioned and continue to question the  engineered) plant varieties point to 
the lop-sided effects of the “revolutionary seeds” that are usually marketed by 
big Western corporations like Monsanto. They criticize the fact that economically 
weak peasants become more dependent, and in fact intolerably dependent on 
economically powerful suppliers (who usually profit from the political and legal 
backing of governments and international organizations). They criticize the 
curious relationship between use of the new “revolutionary seeds” and increased 
dependency on (both expensive and poisonous) chemical ‘pest controlling’ 
substances. They point to poisoned soils, poisoned dwellings on the farms, 
poisoined bodies of the farm-workers or peasants.  The point out that the initially 
high yields per acre (or hectare) tend to fall over time, as the fertility of soils is 
impaired by extremely irrational, exploitative strategies of agricultural use, 
which in term requires bigger and still bigger input of expensive seeds and 
expensive chemical fertilizers and expensive herbicides and/or insecticides. 
The opponents have often demonstrated that without the “technological 
revolution” championed by Western agribusiness for its own good, good yields 
can be obtained, the fertility of the soil can be maintained and even increased, 
and a sustainable agriculture is possible. And yet, the myth subsists. The Brook 
World Poverty Institute experts in Manchester repeat that in Indonesia, thanks 
to the New Order regime’s willingness to adopt “Green revolution” answers to 
the problem of endemic hunger in this populous country,

      "[f]arm GDP increased by nearly half from the 1960s to mid-1990s (see 
      Peter Timmer’s paper). And rural inequality fell. Agricultural policy 
      received high marks from the development economists of the 1980s. 
      Villagers mattered politically to the [corrupt Indonesian military leadership 
      and the Sino-Indonesian business] elite [...]"(21), ,

they want to make us believe. And why did they care? Because this
Indonesian military, bureaucratic and comprador "elite made lots of
money through BULOG, the food distribution agency.” (22) 

If the "green revolution", rather than land reform (as pushed for by left
activists and then undertaken by the Soekarno government, only to be put in 
question by Soeharto) was the answer to rural poverty and hunger, why then 
did the rural poor continue to flock to the cities? 

If the "green revolution" produced indeed a certain (and perhaps even
relatively big) surplus, can it be that rice was exported? That food in the 
countryside and the poor people's quarters of the cities remained scarce? 

If everything was just fine, as the "elite" went on to make "lots of money
through  [...] the food distribution agency," why did hunger persist? Were
films like "Kembang-Kembang Plastik," by Wim Umboh (a film done in
1978 that dwells on the fact of hunger as a constant reality of Indonesia's
poor people, and this at great risk because of censorship and the danger
of being branded subversive), merely inventing a fantastic, unrealistic

Perhaps, the increased rice yields (and we have no first-hands report by poor
farmers on the average increase of the yield per hectare they observed on 
their plots) were profiting, above all, the big landowners who were in a position 
to buy not only the new seeds offered by "Green revolution" experts but the 
necessary quantities of chemical fertilizer and chemical pest-controls as well. 
In all likelihood, rice remained scarce, for the poor, those without plots, those 
paid meagre wages, as it did for the unemployed and underemployed (and this 
in the cities and in the countryside). 
Presumbably, with added production costs for “new” seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, 
the prize of rice went up. 
Presumbably big landowners selling rice at a high price to BULOG were jubilant. 
Perhaps bureaucrats asking for kickbacks when deciding whom to buy rice from 
(for distribution by BULOG) were happy, too. 
Perhaps, with demand from the poor being stifled by a high market price and 
rations distributed by BULOG being too small, there was a lot of rice available 
for export now. 
Perhaps, despite oil revenues and a food distribution agency set up by the 
Soeharto regime (24), too much oil money ended up in the pockets of the 
generals and their cronies, and too little in the coffers of BULOG. 

In fact accounts from the late 1970s / early 1980s (and thus a decade and a 
half after the fall of Soekarno and the end that was put to land reform),
show that hunger persisted in Indonesia.  Revenues or no revenues from oil 
pumped and exported by American corporations –  BULOG at least was never 
buying up sufficient quantities of rice for distribution and therefore could not 
put an end to hunger in Indonesia.  The rations handed out to each person or 
family officially deemed in need of them were too small. Not every one in
need of food assistence may have received it. It is not clear whether the 
hand-outs were free of charge, or merely given away at a reduced, subsidized
price. The latter is very likely. With somewhat increased rice yields and food
being distributed by BULOG, the situation, on the average, may have 
improved –  but not nearly enough. Hunger still was a fact, for poor families 
and individuals; it hit, periodically or continually, both city dwellers and 
villagers. In addition, both the BULOG food distribution system and the new 
use of expensive seeds, fertilizers and pesticides had many adverse effects, 
from corruption to providing a tool for maintaining a system of clientelism 
in the countryside, from increasing inequality in the villages (as owners of big 
farms with adequate capital at hand, for agriculural investments) profited more 
from the “Green revolution” and small farmers profiting much less or not at all; 
landless farm laborers were left out in the rain, but they were the ones who 
suffered most from the downside (poisoining by pesticides and so on.) 
American and generally speaking, Western and Japanese agribusiness, of 
course had opened up a new and significant ‘Third World’ market
for their products, something that would not have occurred if Indonesia had 
chosen to rely on independent research regarding traditional, sturdy and 
high-yield seed varieties. 

                                             *           *           *

Stories about hunger certainly were more frequent a few decades ago. 
It seems that the media that produce 'world opinion' got used to the scandal
of hunger. It  simply is not ‘brandnew news’ anymore. The fact that one 
“half of the world’s inhabitants live in poverty”(25) –  and that many 
millions of them are starving and millions are dying of starvation while the 
“global campaign to eliminate hunger” remains largely a farce in view of 
inadequate funding –  isn’t even at the back of the minds of most people in 
the West.

And yet, somehow most people are vaguely aware of the scandalous level 
of poverty  and hunger that persists in the world. It's at the back of the mind 
that millions of starving people exist, some of them in the ‘rich world,’ some
in parts of the world often haughtily described as ‘underdeveloped.’ Those 
who care to get some amount of information about this know that many 
millions die each year of malnutrition and its 'side' effects. 
But the new, or renewed concern that brings hunger onto the front page of 
newspapers recently, or into the evening news on tv,  isn't a result of the 
'mere' fact that people starve, that people die of starvation. It is a concern not
of you and me, the common citizens who are revolted by the fact that 
inequality persists and people die because of it. It’s an abstract concern, of 
tycoons and politicians and experts and journalists. And it’s linked to food 
prices. The market consciousness is in the forefront. At the same time, the 
political concern among the 'elites' that rising food prices may rock the boat. 
Because nowadays it's not the stationary fact that people go hungry. It's the 
dynamic fact that food is rapidly being priced out of reach, for a quickly 
increasing number of people, in an increasing number of countries, including
Indonesia. This ‘food price explosion’ may produce a reaction, the experts
and politicians and business ‘elites’ fear. People hungy for year after year
tend to get apathetic. They tend to accept it as fate, a god-sent ill-fortune,
a curse of the devil, a punishment, a retribution meted out for bad deeds
committed in another life. You can easily ignore and forget such apathetic
people. You can ignore and forget about the skinny dead bodies. You don’t
have to look. Better turn the camera off. 
But people who had simple but sufficient food for year after year can get 
very angry when that is taken away, suddenly, drastically, pushing them 
over the brink and into the ranks of the starving. Hefty price increases have
lead to 'bread revolts' before. They can also lead to 'rice revolts' or 'corn' 
revolts, as rice or corn (in Britain: maize) prices explode. The ‘elites’
know that. It makes them talk of the need for action. The need for short term
‘solutions’ that never are real solutions, no matter how much they temporarily
alleviate a scandalous situation – for some.

The price of oats, according to reports in the media, has doubled within a year 
in Europe. What's more, "[i]n  less than a year, the price of wheat has risen 
by 130 %" on the world market.(26) 
Corn – used increasingly for the production of bio-fuel –  went up
by 150 %. 
The palm oil price also went up sharply, having an immediate effect on the 
price of vegetable oil (27), as had the price hike in the case of  soy beans which, 
according to the quoted source, amounted to 87 %. 
The  rice price increased by 74%. 

The effects of this, although leading to complaints about food prize
inflation from such diverse countries as the U.S.A., Italy, Bahrain, etc.,
has already had the strongest of effects in so-called 'Third World'
countries in Asia, Africa, and 'Latin' America. 

Take India. 
The following story told about the food price increase in India could also
have been told in Indonesia. You just have to replace the name of the Indian
woman who is quoted by that of an Indonesian girl, and the location,
Delhi, by Jakarta or Semarang: 

    "It is the constant sensation of hunger that makes Kamla Devi so angry. 
    She argues with shopkeepers in New Delhi over prices and quarrels with 
    her husband, a casual labourer, over his wages –  about 50 rupees a day. 
    ‘When I go to the market and see how little I can get for my money, it 
    makes me want to hit the shopkeepers and thrash the government,’ she 
    A few months ago, Kamla (42) decided she and her husband could no 
    longer afford to eat twice a day. The couple, who have already sent their 
    two teenage sons to live with more prosperous relatives, now exist on only
    one daily meal. At midday Kamla cooks a dozen roti (a round, flat Indian 
    bread) with some vegetables fried with onions and spices. If there are some 
    left, they will eat them at night. The only other sustenance that the couple 
    have are occasional cups of sugared tea. 
    ‘My husband and I would argue every night. In the end he told me it 
     wouldn't make his wages grow larger. Instead we went down to one meal 
     a day to cut costs.’”(28)

For anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear, it is a story that she (or he) 
knows can be told not a million times, but many million times, in more or less 
the same way. P.B.S., the internet, the better ones among newspapers –  they all 
inform us more or less pointedly that 

     "[a]cross the world, a food crisis is now unfolding with frightening speed. 
     Hundreds of millions of men and women who, only a few months ago, were 
     able to provide food for their  families have found rocketing prices of wheat, 
     rice and cooking oil have left them facing the imminent prospect of starvation. 
     The spectre of catastrophe now looms over much of the planet."(29) 

Why are prices exploding? Is it 'climate change,' as some maintain? The
draught in Australia that impairs Australian wheat production? The
increased demand of the new 'middle classes' in China? Real food scarcity,
that is to say, too little food to feed everybody? 

No, it's the market. To be exact, speculation. It is, to a large degree, responsible
For the present irrational and unnecessary tragedy. Recently, global players
engaged in large-scale speculation have not only engaged in currency 
speculation, property speculation,  speculation in raw material markets and 
so on. But they have discovered another field of potentially very profitable 
speculation: the segment of  the commodity market that is focused on grain, on 
rice, on soy beans, palm oil, etc. 

The buyers and sellers of futures and options betting on the future price of
cereals must have been very pleased to learn that European storage houses for
wheat are nearly empty, as a result of the European Union's farm policy. The 
EU has on reduced its strategic wheat reserves to an all-time low; to a level of 
reserves so low that the store houses are practically empty.(30) 

The announcement, by the FAO, that currently 

    "there are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks in the world, while 
    grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s"(31)

reflects both EU policies and the fact that speculators are purposefully 
holding back supplies. It is very obvious that the announcement,  in the
press, that EU reserves are at an all-time low must have made the 
‘traders’ happy.  Such statements cannot but drive up market prices of 
cereals. Of course, small farmers are the least likely to profit from this. 
Those who profit most are exactly those entrepreneurs who bought wheat 
or rice options at a lower price yesterday than they will ask for it tomorrow. 
Or six months later while they are holding it back. 

As for genetically modified soy beans, planted for ethanol production, 
people like George Soros have a big stake in this kind of business, especially 
with regard to ethanol from Brazil, produced for the North American and 
West European markets. Speculative betting on ethanol, underpinned by 
‘ecological’ pro-ethanol policies of such anti-ecology governments as the 
present  Bush administration, has driven up the price of soy beans but also
palm oil. It has outpriced soy bean oil out of reach for the poorest of the poor 
and the same goes for palm-oil based vegetable oil. In other words, it has 
turned cooking oil into a luxury accessible only with difficulties (and in 
sharply reduced quantity!) for the poor.  Poor people who spend large 
shares of their daily income, sometimes up to 90 per cent, on food, can no 
longer maintain their previous level of nourishment. The poorest go to bed 
even more hungry than before. Even the middle classes feel the pinch of 
food price inflation. 

It is clear that a situation that hurts lower middle class people and the
poor all over the world, has the most infuriating effect on those who see
less than good but better than really bad standards decline sharply. But
is has the most bitter effect on those who even before, in supposedly better 
times (for there are no good times for them, ever),  failed to make ends meet. 
The poorest of the poor, time and again, go to bed hungry. Undernourished, 
badly nourished, inadequately nourished, they fight doggedly for survival.
Many barely manage to lead lives at a level close to starvation.(32) Others 
don’t manage, and die too soon.

With steeply rising food prices, sufficient food is even farther out of
reach for these people; the bare minimum necessary for survival becomes 
unattainabe or an almost unattainable luxury. The catastrophe is near at
hand for them. It is already there for tens of thousands, hundreds of
thousands, no, millions pushed over the brink.

But is the market issue which is at the core of the present food prices frankly
addressed? Is it even identified as such? 

Widely respected Western institutes that do research on poverty have
failed to do so. Politicians and experts that get together in high places
have failed to do so. At a recent meeting, a 'world leader' and 'expert'
working with one of the big international financial organizations shed
crocodile's tears, stating that this, this scandalous crisis that multiplies
hunger in the world, 

     "[…] is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social 
      unrest; it is about lost learning potential for  children and adults in the 
      future,  stunted intellectual and physical growth [...]"(33) 

and so on, and so forth. They know it for decades already. They have done 
almost nothing about it. They continue to preach the catechism of neo-liberal 
deregulation. Of privatization. Of unfettered ‘free-market’ economics. Asked to 
choose between a free people (which must also, finally, be free of hunger) and 
the freedom of the market, they will always choose the latter. Meanwhile, like a 
prayer, they repeat the old knowledge that starving, undernourished children 
risk being impaired not only physically but mentally as well. Yes, we all know 
this. Or should know it. "[S]tunted intellectual and physical growth" is a likely 
consequence when children are forced to starve. Not for a day. Not for a week. 
But for years. An entire childhood bearing the stamp of starvation.. These people, 
people in top positions,  know what it entails. And what do they do about it? 
They are praising the market. Telling us to rely on market forces. 

If something has these world leaders and their clerks working in the renowned
‘think tanks’ seriously worried, it is not the fact that adults and children go 
hungry; this has happened all along and they know it. It is that 

     "swiftly rising prices have unleashed serious political unrest in many places."(34) 

As a matter of fact, Indonesia is among those countries that have seen
demonstrations triggered by the shock of hefty food price increases.(35) 

For Western "[e]conomists and financiers" this is indeed a cause for concern. 
If people take to the street, if this is perceived, by investors, as creating what is 
typically called a climate of instability, then a coveted field of secure investment 
may be lost –  perhaps for months, perhaps for a year, perhaps for several years. 
To be blunt, once more, it's not so much the starving (whose faces we hardly 
see in the press or on television, and whose words are seldom recorded and 
even more seldom translated for those abroad) who worry the experts and the 
'financiers.'  If they speak of "diastrous effects" what they have in mind is 
above all 'ruined investment opportunities.' 

But, to come back to it again, wasn't it investment, investment in speculation 
with such commodities as bio fuels, soy beans, palm oil, rice, wheat and so on, 
which drove up food prices more than anything else?

Weren't the cereal shortages that are (largely) not actual but projected (a result 
of reserves purposefully reduced) brought about by top-level decisions that in 
turn were market-conscious and market-oriented? 

And yet, the press, television, politicians, the experts, they all are happy to 
enumerate 'non-embarrassing' causes of the ‘food crisis’, such as: 
    - the world climate (seen by some as a natural rather than man-made
       occurrence), (36)
    - increased demand for bio-fuels and 
    - the competition between bio-fuel production  and food production,(37)
    - increased "Chinese" demand for foodstuffs.(38)

The market doesn’t figure here as a cause. None of them likes to mention
let alone single out speculation

Let's review the list of suggested causes, testing their plausibiliy. Perhaps 
it's best to begin with the last one of the four main 'causes' given. We
immediately note how most of the experts and journalists treat ‘greatly
increased’ Chinese demand for foodstuffs on the world market as a fait
accompli. In other words, they obscure the fact that the argument of
(‘suddenly’ !) much more vast Chinese demand is a fairy tale dear to
commodity speculators. They are silent about the fact that anticipated
future demand from "China" was a bigger factor than real Chinese

As for the world climate, it is indeed bound to have negative effects on food
production in many regions of the world, especially in the long run. At
present, it is true that the farm sector in Australia has been suffering from a 
series of abnormally hot and dry summers. And yet, despite years of draught 
in Australian grain-growing regions and impaired grain harvests in Australia., 
there is still ample grain and other food around, at least at the moment.(40) 

Ethanol production is a serious issue. Much more than Chinese ‘added
demand’, it has already created real food shortages in some regions.
The prognostic effects and thus the symbolic significance, just as in the case
of Chinese demand, affect food price development even more.(41)

The powers that be like us to bury our good capacity to analyze developments.
And they like to rely on mass psychology to fiddle around with our spontaneous
‘common sense.’ And yet, the tricks of tricky Dick that are so important in
speculative business (and all business is speculative, to a greater or lesser
extent – there are no ‘good, productive’ ventures we can oppose to ‘bad,
merely speculative ones’) are known already to kids. You exaggerate the value 
of what you give in exchange, and you talk down what you want to have, 
minimizing its value and the importance it has for you.
If, in naïve versions of economic theory, the interplay of ‘supply’ and ‘demand,’ 
in beautiful mathematical fashion determines the price curve, market practice is 
indeed different. It is irrational and characterized by scheming, tricks, cunning, 
make-belief. It is a game where the large players are almost always in the better 
position. Where, symbolically speaking, a poker face helps to obscure the ‘facts’ 
of the market so that market-related decisions by other ‘players’ will be based on 
false assumptions. Wishful thinking, deception, false assumptions, figure way up 
on the scale of what works inside the psychological setup of market participants. 
Decisions are based on partly or entirely unfounded assmptions, mistaken analysis 
comes in, but also willful and socially speaking, irrational and harmful actions. 
Actions like that of withholding food from the market, stealing it, practically, out 
of the mouth of the poor. Yes, there can be no doubt about it: neither the changing 
world climate (as apparent in the draught in Australia and elsewhere) nor real 
added demand from China have had more than a minimal and largely symbolic 
effect on the real world food supply. The real effect of ethanol production, though 
regionally felt to some extent, is also greatly surpassed by predictions and their 
effects. But symbolic factors figure largely in a market that is fundamentally 
‘psycholological,’ that is to say, irrational.

Scarcity, as so often, is a matter of allocation. The question is: Do we
throw grain to the pigs, and soy beans to the cattle, or do we feed the
hungry mouths of hundreds of millions of starving people in the world? Do
we want palm-oil and oil made from soy beans burned in the cars of the
rich, or do we want it to bolster the diet of the world's poor? Do we want
foodstuffs to be exported when local populations starve – because
producers fetch better prices in certain export markets than they would at
home? These are the essentials questions we must answer, in all honesty
to ourselves and to those in dire need. We can't leave the answer to 'the
markets,' and still  preserve a good conscience. The market doesn't
exonerate us. The question is an ethical, human question, and thus our
humanity is at stake. Either we choose to be inhuman, leaving everything
to the whims and accidents of market forces, or we decide otherwise. If
we do, it is a moral, a political decision – and it may well go against the
market. But instead, present-day world leaders pretend to be powerless when 
‘faced with market-forces’;  they accept speculation, and when forced to
face the fact of million-fold starvation increased by ‘free-market’ forces,
they treat it as god-sent, as something no one can do anything about, apart 
from giving a little bit of verbal consolation and a little bit of 'emergency aid' 
to the luckier one among the starving masses.(42) 

To repeat it once more: What is behind the price hike for food was the result 
of speculative moves by large investors.  The very fact that the European 
Union had dramatically reduced its strategic grain reserves in an effort to 
cut costs and 'deregulate' the market for agricultural products, had certainly 
encouraged investors to bet on increasing future scarcity and a price curve 
going up. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If there is one point where some of our so-called world leaders are waking up 
a little, it is regarding ethanol policy. The more intelligent among them are
on the verge of abandoning it. At least, they are having second thoughts. Thus, 
shortly before an ‘important’ meeting in Accra, focusing "on the pressing issue 
of food"(43) and attended by Third World leaders as well as the chief of staff 
in the UN trade and development division, a certain Mr. Tesfachew, said Mr.
Tesfachew was briefly in London where he "said that decades of aid have been 
skewed to ambitious industrialisation programmes and that the World Bank and 
others have failed to invest in the agricultural sector", adding, 

     "We believe these high food prices won't disappear in the next two years, 
      so now is the time to redress imbalances in terms of ethanol subsidies[...]"(44)

The recently trumpeted position of the present director of the World Bank , 
Mr. Zoellick, regarding ethanol is similar. He has made clear that quick action is 
Necessary in this regard.

    "In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices 
    of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their tanks, many 
    others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs", 

Zoellick said, adding, 

      " And it's getting more and more difficult every day[...]"(45)

But the significance of a revision of ethanol policies (if they will be revised at all,
in the U.S. and in Europe) is limited. As a tool of combating the food price 
explosion in world markets, it is clearly not sufficient if it is not coupled  with
measures that at least reign in market forces, making clear that the fulfillment of
such human needs as the need to obtain food required for survival, and above and 
beyond this, for healthy and dignified lives, cannot be left to the whims of the

If, in view of the urgency of the situation, Zoellick pleaded for "emergency
help" from the 'rich' countries, "including $500-million in extra funding
to the UN World Food Programme"(46), he was again betting on short term
solutions that don’t solve the question of hunger as a long-term and recurrent
But it was a demand that was reportedly 

     "backed by finance ministers from the G24, who represent the leading 
     developing countries, who also demanded  extra cash to help cushion the 
      poor against the shock of rising food prices. As well as causing hunger 
      and malnutrition, the rising cost of basic foodstuffs risks blowing a hole 
      in the budgets of food-importing countries, [...] they argued."(47)

There is something very typical about most of these declarations. 

    - They are made by leaders of countries which for decades have failed
    to honor the pledges made with regard to the level of development aid,
    as expressed in relation to the GDP of the donor country. 

    - The measures envisioned are emergency measures. This is significant
    in so far as these leaders shy away from long-term commitments. 

    - The sums of emergency aid promised and trumpeted in the media are
    almost never given. In the case of the aid that was promised to South
    East Asian and South Asian tsunami victims, for instance, only a small
    faction of the help announced was given. Advertisements of 'help' in the
    media count more than real help. On the other hand, it may be true this
    time that Western leaders are seriously concerned about the potentially
    'politically unsettling' and 'destabilizing' effect of a hunger crisis in
    countries the world over, and particularly in populous countries like
    Indonesia. The lesson learned already that the last time when shortages 
    were very painfully experienced by the poor (and the lower middle classes) 
    in Indonesia, Soeharto was toppled, has stuck, or so it seems. Equally 
    important, certain Western leaders realize how the widening gap between 
    the rich and the poor as well as the continued existence of hunger
    and malnutrition in South and Central America have played a certain
    role in the rise of popular governments leaning towards the left, in
    Argentine, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua,  and (less
    pointedly) in Chile and Brazil. These developments were not eagerly
    welcomed by the Washington power elite, nor did it please leading
    figures of the World Bank, the IMF, or the European Union. 

                                         *            *           *

Sustained, long-term measures to combat hunger and poverty, in Indonesia as 
elsewhere, are needed.  Today, the most ‘progressive’ among the advocates
of such sustained measures appear to concentrate on ecological measures.
The strange thing about this is that ‘ecological devastation’ and ‘ecological risks’ – 
in the context of poverty and food crises – are usually seen as a problem of the 
so-called ‘Third World.’  However, Justus Liebig, the renowned chemicist, 
remarked in the 19th century that modern capitalist intensive farming threatened 
to exhaust soils in the long run, despite the recently introduced use of chemical 
fertilizer. This was then mainly a problem in ‘developed’ countries, and it 
continues to be a problem of so-called ‘developed’ countries. On the other hand, 
unequal distribution of land, in other words, class relations in the countryside, 
are an important factor in many if not most so-called ‘Third World’ countries 
which, in conjunction with population pressure, may force small  peasants or 
their adult offspring to engage in internal migration, in search of new, ‘virgin’ 
lands. In other words, they are compelled by poverty and lack of land to clear
 small parts of the (rain) forest,  then planting rice, corn, soy beans or other 
crops on thin layers of humus. As the fertility of these soils quickly decreases,
 the process will begin again: new trees have to be felled;  but the fields cleared 
will be abandoned in a few years; and as the process will go on,  the forest will 
decrease while soils are exposed to erosion, washed away by heavy rains. 
The link between  the poverty of landless peasants and ecological devastation is 
very obvious; the ecological damage brought about  in turn increases poverty 
again. Some Western ecologists, concerned about the rain  forests, the ‘green 
lungs’ of the earth, tend to lose sight of the underlying social questions that 
remain unsolved. In other words, they appear to loose sight of the social 
dynamics of extremely unequal societies, in the so-called ‘Third World’.(48) 
And no one in a top position, politically (or among the thinkers dearly accepted
as ‘advisers’ by the ‘classe politique’) dares to address the market issue, the 
failure of the market to (adequately) feed the poor, address their unsolved 
housing question, their health question, etc. Not even their ‘education’ question, 
or the questions of political exclusion and economic disempowerment are 
addressed. It is clear that the market has not been solving any of these questions;
on the contrary, the problems in question have been produced or at least
exacerbated by the market.

Present 'development' in 'emergent markets' repeats many mistakes once made 
(and even now perpetuated) in rich Western countries. Investment opportunities 
matter. Property speculation matters. The profits reaped by producing 
commodities for the market matter. With the present food-crisis assuming 
critical proportions, certain experts from big international organizations 
dominated by the West begin to admit that so-called development strategies 
(which are in fact strategies to (1.) open the markets of ‘Third World’ countries 
for Western goods, (2.) create investment opportunities for internationalized 
capital, and (3.) secure a flow of  raw materials, and certain other, usually 
dirt-cheap agricultural or industrially produced goods from these countries) 
have failed to give enough ‘attention’ or ‘encouragement’ to the agricultural 
But of course they imply a ‘modernization’ of the sector that will subsume it 
to the whims and constraints of the world market. What these experts usually 
have in mind is an expansion and tendentially, a clear dominance of the 
‘modern’ export-oriented sector that will generate foreign currency earnings 
needed to service the debt. But of course this strategy will lead to price increases 
of foodstuffs on local markets as more agricultural products will be exported, 
as added emphasis on cash crops (destined for export)  leads to a more thorough 
replacement of  traditional crops usually meant for consumption ‘at home’, 
and this will in turn increase malnutrition and hunger. At the same time, the 
modernization of the agricultural sector, as envisaged by most foreign experts, 
will increase dependency on  foreign and native-owned trading companies. 
It  will increase dependency on (locally produced or, more likely, foreign-made) 
pesticides, fertilizer, seeds etc.,  and the added cost will lead to price increases 
of the products grown. As yield per hectar, on modernized farms with considerable 
lay-outs for seeds, fertilizer, pesticides increases while yield on plots farmed by 
poor farmers who can’t afford this ‘modern’ strategy of farming remains low, 
this will increase the gap between businesses or families running plantations and 
big farms, on the one hand, and small-holders as well as landless laborers, on 
the other.

Of course, high yields on ‘modernized’ farms seem to speak in favor of this 
strategy, and the strategy seems to promise an end to endemic hunger in the 
countrysíde and the poor quarters of the cities. But this is an illusionary 
expectation. The increased harvest goes to the highest bidders. The poor 
stay hungry not because there isn’t enough food but because they cannot afford 
to pay for sufficient food. As costs of production and food prices soar, the poor 
are left behind. Despite bigger crops, their situation may worsen. The food 
situation of the rich and  of sections of the middle classes (usually those who 
still, or again, profit from insertion of the country into the increasingly ‘real,’ 
factually ‘globalized’ world economy) will improve; surpluses will leave the 
country; but the food available for each hungry mouth may well be  diminished, 
in view of higher prices. This is exactly what we see now. After modest rises 
in the price of rice, wheat etc. in the last few years, during the last 6 or 12 month, 
these prices have virtually exploded. This is not because supply during this brief 
period has been shrinking correspondingly, or because demand has increased 
correspondingly, or because the difference between supply and demand, the 
proclaimed ‘shortage’  the media talk about, has suddenly taken on vast 
proportions.  It is because the market, every market, is at bottom a ‘speculative’ 
market,  operating on assumptions of future demand, on fears of coming shortages, 
on hopes of sudden chances to make extra-profits, in fact, abnormal profits. 
No trader in his right (that is, ‘normal’) mind will let such chances to make an 
extra-profit go. 

The strategy of modern advocates of a ‘new green revolution,’ on gen-tech food, 
of genetically engineered corn for instance, are taken in by the apparent successes 
of biotechnologies, of ‘modern science.’ They proclaim that their science is the 
answer to the food crisis and aiding ‘development’ strategies that, for years 
already, are credited with reducing an soon wiping our hunger. But in all 
likelihood that is not what they will achieve. In all likelihood, the strategies 
recommended by such Western experts and some ‘Third World’ colleagues are 
part of the problem. What these Western advocatesof ever new ‘green revolution’ 
and of increasing dependence on Monsanto and other corporations involved in 
the agribusiness sector overlook is that
- the profits go to big (usually: foreign) agribusiness firms;
- the added cost is eating up a large part of the increased financial benefit of 
  higher yields even in good years, and may make agriculture a loss-making 
  business if weather and other factors lead to bad harvests;
- the hidden costs of this modernization strategy are not immediately apparent; 
   they include poisoning of farmers and farm workers bringing out the increased 
   amounts of pesticides usually required in the modernized farm sector; the 
  poisoning of the soil, of sub-soil water resources, of plants harvested, and 
  so on;
- the necessity, over time, as pests turn resistent, to bring out ever greater 
  amounts of pesticides, at considerable cost; the likelihood that in the long run 
  the soils farmed by the new, rather than more traditional methods, will become 

But short-term results count most and long term perspectives are lacking. The 
wonders and riches of this planet, water, soils, air, count very little; they are 
almost taken to be worth nothing when 'untreated' and when they are not yet 
individually possessed. Look at Brazil, how little its ‘classe politique’ and
certain MNCs as well as farmers in the ethanol business or ranchers in the cattle
export business values its rain forests,  despite all official proclamations to the 
contrary. Look at Borneo where, for the sake of extending palm oil plantations, 
the same process of deforestation as in Brazil is under  way.(49)

What is little understood is that our critique of World Bank-style market-oriented 
modernization that relies on the ‘help’ and ‘support’ of Western agribusiness is 
not a plea for a simple continuation in yesterday’s backward ways of farming, 
with its supposedly low yields per hectare. If we put in doubt the ‘green revolution’ 
for ecological reasons and see the market-oriented, export-focused development 
strategy for the agricultural sector as an added cause for hunger and a factor that 
is throwing the poor even deeper into poverty (while temporarily and/or cyclically 
benefitting the plantation sector and big, wealthy farmer), this does not mean that we 
embrace a romantic view of ‘traditions’ and say no to ‘science.’ Science and the 
empirical knowledge base gained in centuries and passed on from generation to 
generation, must go hand in hand. There are traditional types of food plants that 
are better, sometime much better than other. While defending the richness of 
biodiversity and the large variety of rice seeds, corn seeds, weed seeds, tomato 
seeds, and so on, we need empirical observation coupled with the theoretical 
understanding and analysis of science, in order to have the right seeds used that 
are suitable to certain, very specific soils and micro-climates. We need traditional 
knowledge orally passed on from one generation to the next, regarding effective 
biological pest controls that are not poisoning soils and ground water and  animals 
and people. We  need, above all, to understand that there are better ways than 
monocultures, than planting cash-crops that grow quickly and are in demand 
abroad. What is necessary is an understanding that at their core, there is 
something very rational and not at all backward to some types of agriculture often 
derided as remnants of a no longer up-to-date ‘subsistence economy.’ What is 
rational about it is that it takes care of very real, very immediate and very present 
needs at hand;  that it is frequently characterized by ties of mutual responsibility 
and mutual help; that it  helps to preserve a social context in which valuable 
empirical knowledge is passed on, from one generation to the next. If we learn 
to combine local respectively regional empirical knowledge or ‘experience’ of 
farmers with a type of science not oriented towards abstract goals (of adding 
so much yield per hectar) but oriented towards the locally and regionally specific 
plant varieties, soils, climatic conditions,  we should be ready to find solutions 
that may bring about optimal  improvements which are just right for the given 
natural and social context and which avoid the kind of brutal, in fact ruthless, 
appropriation of nature that is only concerned with short-time monetary gain.

Today, among all modernizing ‘Third World’ countries, China stands out as 
‘by far’  the  most successful country among those targeted by international 
investment.  Therefore, it is noteworthy to see how China’s “arable land [...] is 
shrinking as farmland has been ravaged  by pollution and water shortages."(50) 
But in fact, the same rapacious use of the soil occurs today not only in China 
and other ‘modernizing’ countries of the so-called ‘Third World’; it also is 
current practice in the United States, in Canada, in Australia, in practically 
every country where farmers and specialists have fallen for the myth that 
everything is possible if we use more heavy and expensive tractors that by 
their sheer weight damage or very nearly wipe out the vital but vulnerable 
micro-organisms in the top layers of the soil; if we plough deeper; if we 
use more fertilizer, more insecticides and herbicides; if we rely more 
systematically on genetically engineered seeds, and so on. - If food shortages 
that are real and not concocted, like those ‘staged’ by large-scale speculation, 
are threatening us in the future, it will be very largely due to short-termist, 
rapacious, overly exploitative use of the land in those countries that today 
are considered the big wheat and corn (and to some extent, rice) producers 
of the world.
By the way, do we still remember that in pre-modern East Asia, for instance 
in Korea, it was forbidden to build a house on 'rice land' because there was 
a spontaneous awareness of subsistence needs and ecological requirements? 
This lesson has been forgotten, too, as metropolitan sprawl eats up farmland.

As Mrs. Georgieva of the World Bank recently stated, "environmental 
improvement" is essential if the populations in so-called developing countries 
are to attain their right to decently paid "productive work and a good quality 
of life" (which would imply a life free of hunger and malnutrition).(51) This 
statement is in itself so abstract and general that it can hardly be contradicted. 
What Mrs. Georgieva (and thus, the World Bank! ) intends, becomes clear 
however if we listen to the rest of her message. Presenting this official 
World Bank position, Mrs. Georgieva claimed that the factors which could 
bring about a reduction of poverty, an end to hunger, and thus a “good quality 
of life,”  are, above all, 
- (1.)  "scientific and technological innovation”, 
- (2.)  “income growth”, 
- (3.)  “expanded markets”, 
- (4.)  “increased mobility of people and ideas”, and 
- (5.)   “demographic and urban transitions."(52) 

Now, to begin with demographic and urban transitions, it is clear to any 
impartial observer familar with the problems of the so-called Third World's poor 
that internal migrations in these countries have multiplied human misery and 
ecological devastation: they have lead to the emergence of vast areas of 
metropolitan if not megalopolitan sprawl, especially in the last three or so 
decades, to the emergence of fragmented urban areas composed of 'First World 
isles' formed by walled-in, gated compounds for the rich, of various middle class 
areas, of C.B.D. districts, malls, etc., and all of this is usually girded by a belt 
of slums studded with pockets of smaller or larger, often environmentally 
disastrous, industrial zones. The latter are usually blooming and expanding 
during the upward phase of the business cycle, and they are stagnant or shrinking 
during so-called processes of  'restructuring,' that is to say, in the course of the 
graver Capitalist (financial and other) crises, when companies lay off 
tens-of-thousands of workers, shoving them back into a state of worse misery 
then before.  We cannot really see that demographic and urban transitions bring 
a significantly better life to migrants although many if not most leave what must 
seem to them hopeless situations of abysmsal rural poverty and dependence; 
on the other hand, being uprooted and cut loose from extended family and 
village ties, many slip into situations that may be in some respects worse 
than before.

As for increased internal as well as international mobility of people and ideas, 
it is always considered to be a good thing nowadays. And in some ways, quite 
concretely (and, abstractly speaking, in  others), it is. But the truth is also that not 
every one is a highly qualified engineer or scientist lured  away from his native 
‘Third World’ country as a result of the enticing ‘rewards’ accompanying the 
‘brain drain.’ The situation of African ‘sans papiers’ in Paris, of illegal 
immigrants from Central America picking fruit in the Central Valley of 
California, of Indonesian household helps and construction workers in Kuala 
Lumpur usually is not very enviable. Despite the remittances they sent home, 
it remains a fact that in most cases external migrations have brought along 
with them the deprived and miserable lives of migrant laborers robbed of 
many human and workers’ rights.(53) 

For ideological reasons, the plight of migrants workers  leaving rural Chinese 
communities to toil in the coastal centers of Capitalist growth like Guangzhou, 
Shanghai,  or Tianjin has received more attention in the Western press  than 
the misery of most migrant workers toiling in the so-called ‘Free World.’ But 
this ‘Free World’ is placing also many obstacles and barriers in the way of the 
lesser-educated citizens from so-called ‘developing’ countries who are willing
to work abroad.  External migration from the poor countries of the world may 
obviously provide a way of (slightly) alleviating poverty at home and is 
therefore favored verbally by the World Bank representative quoted. But  it is
in fact  seen as undesirable by most Western governments. For instance, 
emigration in order to work and earn a wage abroad is out of the question 
for most Indonesians when their favorite destination would be the United States 
or the European Union. The 'rich' countries practically try to close their doors to 
poor migrants from the South who would want to work there in order to better 
their lives and send money home to their loved ones; it is a well-known fact that 
the United States and the member states of the European Union make it 
impossible (for all but those who fulfill their thirst for the best and the brightest) 
to enter the country legally. Illegal immigrants are humiliated, mistreated,
deported, sometimes killed ‘accidentally’ while being put on a plane for the 
purpose of deportation. In view of this, the World Bank recommendation that 
countries like Indonesia should have recourse to the external migration of poor 
working people is unrealistic if not cynical, unless the intention is: Go and work, 
under miserable conditions, in next-door Malaysia or Singapore where you will 
hardly earn enough to justify going abroad.

Another World Bank recommendation is increased reliance on market forces. 
But isn’t it cynical if they recommend “expanded markets” in order to mellow 
the effects of the “vicious economic cycles” (54) that hit Indonesia and other 
countries repeatedly, and which had the gravest effects when in 1997 the 
straw-fire of the speculative ‘90s boom was rudely put out by international 
currency speculation?  In view of the havoc wrought by market forces, any 
strategy that would rely on  “expanded markets”  is not really acceptable. 
It amounts to giving the patient more of the medicine that made him sick. 

The next recommendation by the World Bank specialist quoted is quite 
astonishing. She recommends to combat poverty (and hunger) by “income 
growth”. That’s a nice one! We would  have been laughing heartily if the 
situation of the poor wasn’t tragic, and the wisdom of these World Bank 
experts wasn’t that bizarre. But of course, there is a grain of ‘theory’ 
underlying this naïve suggestion that the best recipe to combat widespread 
poverty is to see to it that people have higher incomes, more money in their 
pocket which in market economies they need to buy food, pay rents, clothes, 
and so on. The underlying ‘theory’ is that ‘market activities’ will help some 
people (‘blessed’ with an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’) to rise above the rest of the 
poor, and thus out of poverty. And this in turn, it is believed by the adherents 
of liberal market ideologies, will have a snowball effect or ‘trickle down effect.’ 
We have yet to see this wisdom proved by realistic experience. All we see is 
that with some micro-loans (the new ‘miracle effecting tool’ of experts at the 
service of international organizations), some may manage to start businesses 
on the village level, or in their kampong. In cities like Jakarta, however, there 
are so many street vendors trying hard to make a living in the informal sector 
that, as Indonesian social activists and progressive urbanists have shown, the 
City Government (and perhaps the national government, as well) is doing 
everything to curb their activities and drive them out of the city. This is not 
exactly a policy to encourage ‘small business.’ On the other hand, on the 
village level, a few selected poor families obtain micro-loans, for instance 
from religious or secular NGOs or other donors. If a family is lifted out of
village poverty, operating a food-stall, a shop, or whatever, they basically 
attain a (slightly) better living standard because they make a profit, a profit 
paid for by the other (poor) villagers. It increases inequality. It benefits the 
few. As long as such help doesn’t go to the village, as a cooperative, it leads 
to increased inequality in the village. If one village obtains help while the 
next village remains without it, it is likely in many cases to increase inequality 
between villages. Of course, such help can also be an act of compensatory 
justice if a particularly poor village receives help in order to catch up with other 
villages in the area. By and large, giving and receiving help provokes the 
question: Will this help make dependent? Or will it decrease dependence, and 
increase independence? Will it strengthen the collective capability to produce 
what is needed by the villagers, and by people in the area or the wider region? 
Or will it set individuals against each other, turning them into ‘players’ in the 
market, forgetful of concrete needs, betting on chances to realize a profit if 
abstract marketing chances of certain goods are fairly correctly predicted?

The last of the five suggested elements of a World Bank strategy to combat 
poverty and hunger in times of crisis and achieve a “good quality of life” is 
that we should rely much more thoroughly on “scientific and technological 
innovation.”(55) It sounds good, it sounds reasonable. But isn’t there a 
drawback, a hidden trap we should notice and beware of? (56)

It is clear that those of us who plead for an alternative path of agricultural 
improvements which rejects the recipes of the “Green Revolution” and 
which says ‘No’ to genetically manipulated crops do not choose to close 
their eyes to science. They merely criticize certain scientists and certain 
‘scientific strategies’ that have above all the well-being and profits of big 
agribusiness firms in mind. As is the case with some progressive agricultural 
scientists, especially in India, who are dedicated to biodiversity, to the 
preservation and selective, case-specific use of indigenous pest-resistant 
or high yield plant varieties, or to varieties which require comparatively 
less moisture than most (a  positive factor in arid zones) , those who embrace 
science do not need to uncritically support another “green revolution.”  They 
link new methods of experimentation and analysis  with the empirical knowledge 
of the peasants they try to support. They do not attempt to find general, abstract 
answers valid everywhere. They focus on concrete situations, concrete places 
used to grow plants like rice, wheat, corn, and so on. And they turn back to 
concrete, and specific sorts, some of them almost forgotten,  which may form 
the basis of the evolution of added strains or varieties (but not genetically 
engineered ones) especially suitable to concrete soils and climates.  This is 
science, a sober scientific job, but is has nothing to do with the kind of 
playfully reckless experiments that add strawberry genes to tomatoes. 
This abstract fiddling around with nature may be part of the post-modern 
“anything goes, why not try it?” mentality of many young and not so young 
contemporary Western scientists. But it shows little respect for the concrete 
and specific needs of agriculture in a given area. Instead, such ‘fiddling around’ 
is focused too much on universally marketable seeds.  This is why market-
oriented scientists tend to ignore the fact that many indigenous sorts are 
well-adapted to a given climate and have been improved with a view to given 
soil conditions while other sorts are typically found to have played a positive role 
under other, more or less different natural conditions. Responsible agricultural 
science should be a science working hand in hand with the peasants, respectful 
of empirical knowledge, sensitive with respect to the great storage house of 
nature which is so much richer than the bureaucrats and businessmen (who want 
a few, univerally marketable, streamlined sorts)  or the ‘post-modern’ scientists 
at their service have an inkling of. 

If, today, we hear the term ‘innovation,’ we cannot help fearing the worst. 
Fearing that what is at stake is yet another gratuitous invention, or appropriation. 
Innovation has brought us questionable genetically engineered bt-corn by 
Monsanto; it has been behind the pesticide-intensive ‘green revolution’ that was 
set, from the beginning, to consume massive quantities of chemical fertiler while 
ignoring natural, more traditional methods of fertilizing the soil that scientists 
could have built on, to improve effects.

Today, in Indonesia, international organizations again support a “new green 
revolution”; they support “rice fortification” and similar projects, and foreign 
agri-business and gen-tech firms link hands with Indonesian partners in order 
to have a level playing field and reap a profit. All of this, in the name of 
combating poverty and reducing hunger, by seeing to it that those (usually 
wealthy) farmers who go along using the new agri-technologies, will buy the 
new sorts recommended, and will otherwise increase their dependence on 
foreign agri-business. 
Is it helping to stabilize the situation and cope with the food prize ecplosion, 
the so-called foot crisis? We don’t think so.

The government of Indonesia certainly can be observed to vacillate when the 
question how to improve agriculture while protecting the environment is put 
squarely on the table. 
Mr. Nabiel Makarim, Indonesian State Minister for Environment, during a 
recent conference, told the participants in the meeting apologetically

    "that in Indonesia, the concept of sustainable development was initially 
     introduced by the government, but public demand for sustainable 
     development is lacking.”(57)

While underlining “the need for government efforts to disseminate the concept” 
of sustainable devekopment, Mr. Makarim emphasized in this context the 
concomitant “ need for good governance, public participation and poverty 

His pronouncement in favor of public empowerment and participation would be 
laudible if it had any basis in actual government practice. For it is to be observed 
that the poor and hungry have indeed a desire and a need to make themselves 
heard, not only in private and in the street, but even more so on kampong 
committees,  city committees and in urban or rural forums were decisions are 

Mr. Makarim’s  statement is of course far too general (if  it does not amount 
to a few empty phrases). And in all likelihood, it is  also false and misleading. 
For this much we should know when we hear Mr. Makarim advocate the 
empowerment of the poor: Grass-roots organizations in Indonesia have 
all along demanded political rights, the right of the rank-and-file to truly 
participate in decision making processes, real and effective participatory
rights that is. From all we can tell by following the political debates and 
analyzing the reactions of the bureaucracy and of those in office, such 
demands are far from being fulfilled. What is more, they are ignored if not 
actively rejected and contradicted. People active at the grass roots level know 
full-well that it  is they who suffer in their kampongs from floods, from 
deforestation, from development projects that benefit the rich as new streets 
and mansions on the hills overlooking their poor people's quarters replace 
vegetation and increase the speed and force of the run-off.(59) Those in the 
poor quarters who are demanding participatory rights are aware that they pollute 
involuntarily, for lack of sanitary infrastructure while the big companies pollute 
voluntarily, out of greed, taking Indonesian locations of production as 'cheap' 
alternatives to sites in other countries. Countries which today enforce, more or 
less effectively, higher environmental standards written in the law books. 
The quest for greater participation in (their own) urban affairs is therefore fully 
justified. But it is rejected, often out of a fear (held by the bureaucrats) that to 
empower the populace would make foreign investors avoid the country.(60) 
Actually, not only sanitation and environmental standards matter to the poor. 
In the city, the policies of obstructing work chances in the informal sector, or the 
tendency to wreck ‘illegally constructed’ dwellings of the poor are also of 
concern to the populace; this is behind their wish to be heard and to have an 
acknowledged right to defend their interests in participatory bodies and 
institutions. Obviously, inadequate sanitation and environmental pollution pose 
health hazards which are especially risky for ill-fed people. On the other hand, 
denied work opportunities in the informal sector immediately wipe out incomes, 
occasioning hunger. The urban poor, in fighting for their right to work in the 
informal sector, for their right to the houses they built on unused or underused 
lands which they managed to occupy, and for their right to have better sanitation 
and less pollution, are also fighting for a chance to survive hunger and poverty. 
This is a real effort of immediate concern to them and to anyone who supports 
increased democracy and more social justice. Especially in view of the present 
food price crisis, these people are in a very difficult situation, and they remain 
without very little real and substantial help. The fact that they fight for their 
own interests, fully aware of their civil, participatory rights, is a beacon of 
hope today.

(1) “General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the Twenty-Fifth Session 
of the Governing Council [of IFAD]”, in: http://www.ifad.org/events/gc/25/speech/indonesia.htm

(2)  The University of Manchester,   Brooks World Poverty Institute:  " Suharto — A Bandit No More " ( 1 February, 2008) , in: http://povertyblog.wordpress.com/category/indonesia/ 

(3)  Ibid.

(4) Despite the problematic consequences of the strategies recommended by the World Bank and the bad advice which the World Bank chose to give during the East Asian Financial Crisis, the Head of the Indonesian Delegation speaking at the 25th session of the Governing Council of IFAD declared in 2002 that  "Indonesia [...] has worked together with the World Bank in several development efforts and poverty  eradication   programmes. It is encouraging to note that the World Bank, FAO and IFAD are all committed to support agricultural development, especially rural development and poverty alleviation [...]" (“General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the Twenty-Fifth Session of the Governing Council [of IFAD]”, in: http://www.ifad.org/events/gc/25/speech/indonesia.htm ) 
- Is this evidence of an entirely uncritical attitude, or does it merely reflect the fact that the Indonesian government sees itself as immensely dependent on the World Bank, the IMF, the W.T.O., and the U.S. government which is so overwhelmingly influential in all of these “international” bodies?

(5) [The Head of the Indonesian Delegation], "General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the  Twenty-Fifth Session of the Governing Council", in:  http://www.ifad.org/events/gc/25/speech/indonesia.htm

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid.

(9) With regard to IFAD, the head of the Indonesian delegation present at the the 25th Session of the Governing Council of IFAD regretted that “[t]he lack of adequate funding will certainly affect the ability of the Fund [i.e.of IFAD] to carry out its mandate  satisfactorily." (Ibid.) He pointed out that Indonesia was fulfilling its obligations with regard to IFAD:  "In accordance with the financial commitments pledged to IFAD, the Government of Indonesia has made its first payment of  USD 3.5 million. [...] “(Ibd.)  Such payments must be subtracted from the US $ 59.6 million in assistance that Indonesia was getting at the time from IFAD.
However, what counts even more than the  fact that only minor sums are made available ( - to build a single bridge, crossing a river, in the first world may well cost between  US $ 150 and 400 million ! -) is the fact that help to the poor and help to combat poverty was totally ‘redesigned.’
This is  what the head of the Indonesian delegation indicated at the IFAD Meeting: "After the economic crisis, the Government of Indonesia changed the focus of its development programmes from government  driven to private sector driven."(Ibid.)  State-run programs to alleviate hunger and poverty were cut or suspended. Under pressure from the World Bank,  the government was cutting back on food subsidies etc.
IFAD redesigned its strategy as well: “The Fund moved from  traditional agricultural development projects, based on the delivery of goods and services,  towards more sustainable community  development projects, based on the establishment and strengthening of the institutions for the poor that have become the subject of the development process. The last IFAD-funded project -- the Post Crisis Program for Participatory Integrated Development in Rainfed Areas (PIDRA)  --  is based on a very innovative partnership between the Government and NGOs. PIDRA has so far  been implemented with promising results in terms of increased cost-effectiveness and impact on poverty."(Ibid.)  This sounds very good, close to the grass-roots. But is it? 
In fact, IFAD’s development strategy is highly market.-oriented. Their dollars are mainly  spent with the intention of propping up the export-oriented “agribusiness sector” in Indonesia:  “The organization's current  portfolio of development efforts in the country consist of four on-going projects that have been funded with SDR 66.2 million  (equivalent to about USD 59.6 million). One of these projects, already considered a huge success, is the Rural Income Generation Project (RIGP) (Proyek Peningkatan Pendapatan Petani/Nelayan Kecil (P4K). The RIGP is working to alleviate  poverty in rural areas by focusing on the development of the agribusiness sector. This particular project aims at  strengthening household finances and increasing purchasing power by providing assistance in agribusiness activities."(Ibid.)

(10) “We have also aid funds but the sum is not that
 big, such as from Kinder Mission Werk that grants 18,000 euro (±US$24,171)for tackling malnutrition for over 1,000 children beneficiaries. From Frauen Mission Werk we only gets 3,000 euro for the business of ikat clothes that were sent and sold in Germany.”  Maria Mediatrix Mali (interview), “Lesson Learned from Hunger Fighter in East Nusa Tenggara of Indonesia”, posted March 12, 2007, in the blog run by the The Institute for Ecosoc Rights.  Source : http://ecosocrights.blogspot.com/search/label/busung%20lapar

(11) This was true in 1997 and it is true again during the present worldwide food price explosion. As the interviewed woman from India said when asked about the effects of the so-called food shortage, in fact a speculative price explosion, on her and her family: "The rich are becoming richer. They go to shopping malls and they don't need to worry.  The problem with prices only matters for the poor people like me." (Kamla DEVI, quoted in: 
Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news) The same could be said by every poor person in Indonesia today. If a crisis hits hard and the population at large sees their incomes shrinking, it is almost always the poor who suffer more than anybody else.

(12)  "Poverty ...  jumped to 22%"  (The University of Manchester,   Brooks World Poverty Institute:  " Suharto — A Bandit No More " ( 1 February, 2008) , in: http://povertyblog.wordpress.com/category/indonesia/  )

(13) Such experiences as leaving the cities in order to return to the countryside have long been a common feature in modern ‘market economies.’ In early 19th Europe, the workers of Elberfeld left the city during the crisis of 1828 to avoid the high cost of living in the city and seek assistence from relatives in the countryside, and the workers of Verviers also returned to the surrounding villages they hailed from when the factory owners made them redundant during various crises that struck the textile industry of that city. Those who remain in town while shed by regular employers or having lost temporary jobs in the factories of necessity rely on the informal sector. In his article on the city development of Semarang, Dr. Pratiwo notes the plight of street vendors harassed by the city bureaucracy;  similar observations, especially with reference to Jakarta, can be found on the pages of a blog run by The Institute for Ecosoc [=Economic and Social] Rights (http://ecosocrights.blogspot.com/). Prostitution must be counted as one kind of (self- ?)employment in the informal sector. Andreas Weiland, a film critic, poet, and town planning historian from Germany, has mentioned recently that in an interview he had with the Indonesian film-maker Wim Umboh in 1978, the latter noted how badly paid government officials would pretend not to know that their wife engaged in prostitution when she turned to this way of supplementing an inadequate family income. It was simpy too embarrassing to face the truth openly, but it was equally impossible to ask her to stop prostituting herself when the additional income was badly needed. This underlines,  in the late 1970s, after more than a dozen years of ‘successful’ market-oriented New Order economic policies,  the horrendous impact of the prevalent market conditions that were imposing themselves. For the poor, prostitution apparently is a market-driven way of increasing inadequate incomes. And this is true in very poor countries even more than in the so-called ‘First’ or ‘developed’ world.

(14) It was clear that Chinese-Indonesian ‘comprador’ capital, although significant by Indonesian standards, was not in a position to shoulder the task of building and expanding an export-oriented, subcontractor-based ‘industrial base’ single-handedly. They needed foreign partners. The new stock companies formed and the expanding family-controlled ventures all depended on foreign loans. Loan-financed expansion was a safe bet as long as the economy kept growing; it turned into a fiasco when the crisis triggered by investors who became jittery had struck the country, as the profits that helped service the (by and large) external debt evaporated while interest rates went up. (In some cases, loans were also cancelled or no longer renewed.)

(15) We still remembered the internationally operating funds that flourished at the time before they were hit by the crisis. (Fidelity International, Pioneer,  Robeco, Warburg Invest, …)  The funds controlled by George Soros must not be forgotten here. Among the private banks that played a role we may mention  Amro, Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, J.P. Morgan, ParisBas, Société Generale, USB,  etc. – It is to the specialists with a narrow view of the crisis but ‘detailed’ information on the Indonesian segment of the East and South East Asian field of Western and Japanese speculative investment prior to 1997 that we must look for more precise information as to who were the ‘big players’ in the Indonesian market and how big a stake (or how large a risk exposure) they chose to have in that country. Accompanied by such information, we would like to have detailed information as to which payments were made to them ever since. That is to say, since the Indonesian government and private Indonesian lenders began to regularly service the debt incurred in the boom years. Which they did almost immediately, rather than.imposing a debt moratorium as Malaysia had wisely done, and much later, Argentine.

(16) The University of Manchester,   Brooks World Poverty Institute:  " Suharto — A Bandit No More " ( 1 February, 2008) , in: http://povertyblog.wordpress.com/category/indonesia/

(17) No one in Indonesia will easily forget the renewed progroms against ethnic-Chinese Indonesians that occurred in the aftermath of the 1997 crisis and the fall of Suharto. A few right-wingers, with ties to an extremely conservative minority among the Muslim community, as well as agents provocateurs with ties to the military leaders attached to Suharto or implicated in his crimes, seem to have provoked the gullible, naïve, and highly frustrated of the populace.

(18) We probably can understand the adverse effect of Western strategies that amount to an informal quasi-boycott when we look at what the blockade has done to Cuba, or more recently, to Zimbabwe. 

(19) The University of Manchester,   Brooks World Poverty Institute:  " Suharto — A Bandit No More " ( 1 February, 2008) , in: http://povertyblog.wordpress.com/category/indonesia/

(20) Ibid.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid.

(23) See the review, by Andreas Weiland, in this issue of ‘Art in Society.’

(24)  It is necessary to ask at this point whether the regime was in fact creating the agency at the behest of the Americans? -  who had previously forced the K.M.T. in Taiwan to carry out a 'tame' land reform, in order to defuse a situation potentially rather explosive.

(25) “General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the Twenty-Fifth Session of the Governing Council [of IFAD]”, in: http://www.ifad.org/events/gc/25/speech/indonesia.htm

(26)  "In less than a year, the price of wheat has risen by 130%, soya by 87% and rice by 74%."(The source for this is: Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 ( (http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ ) - The other figures were reported in the radio news recently.

(27) Indeed, very recently, "biofuel demand" has fanned the food price explosion occasioned largely by a certain commodity speculation focused on such commodities as wheat, rice, corn [or maize], palm oil and soy beans. According to a recent source, the effects of "demand for ethanol" can already be seen in  "America's corn belt [...]”(Robert McKie and Heather Stewart, Ibid.)
In Indonesia,  palm oil producers have discovered the bio-fuel market. Thus,  the market, more so than draught, has been primarily responsible for the palm oil price hike that hit Indonesian consumers. As added demand for palm oil, used as an ethanol base, began to be felt, supply could not keep up. Though “farmers and plantation companies hurriedly clear[ed]  land to replant”, everybody knew that “it will take time before their efforts bear fruit.”(Ibid) As a consequence,  “[p]alm-oil prices jumped by nearly 70% last year, hitting the poorest families"  most.(Ibid)
The effect on the poor who now can afford less palm oil than before, is obvious. Palm oil, as other vegetable oils, “[…]  provide[s] an important source of calories in the developing world, and their [unaffordability produced by the market which apologists of market dynamics described as a] shortage has contributed to the  food crisis “, to malnutrition and starvation.(Ibid.)

(28) Ibid.

(29)  Ibid.

(30)  The net result has been to decrease domestic supplies of grain just as demand for it has started to boom. The impact of the decision has struck the developing world most clearly, with wheat and other grain prices soaring.

(31)Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 (URL:
http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ )

(32) Some of them don't, they succumb to the effects of malnutrition; their bodies, weakened for years, have no strength to resist the onslaught of bacteria, viruses, damp heat, unexpected cold. Their housing conditions, never ever the way they should be, that is, decent, contribute their share to such fates of  untimely death.

(33)Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 (URL:
http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ )

(34) Ibid.

(35) "In Egypt, Indonesia, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal and Cameroon there have been demonstrations, sometimes involving fatalities, as starving, desperate people have taken to the streets." (Ibid.)

(36)  These four are most prominent among a "number of factors that have combined to create the  current crisis, a perfect storm in which several apparently unconnected events come together with disastrous effects", they want to make us believe. It's very complicated, they suggest, and there is very little one can do about it - except alleviate the plight of the poor a little bit, by rapidly designed, short-term  'emergency aid' programs. - If dependence on market forces, and as a plausible outgrowth, a surge of  commodity speculation was the single most important factor, there was indeed something that could be done: Institute a counter-acting policy that would at least severely curtail the weight and impact of the  markets.  The authors of the report quoted also note that among the " factors that have combined to trigger the current food crisis, experts [...]  point to the [...] issue of  climate change.” In other words,  a single cause is finally singled out as especially important. They ‘explain’ and illustrate this briefly: “As the levels of carbon dioxide rise in the atmosphere, meteorologists have warned that weather patterns are  becoming increasingly disturbed, causing devastation in many areas. For several consecutive years, Australia –  once a prime grower of wheat –  has found its production ruined by drought, for example.” Their explanation of steeply rising food prices in Asia therefore is that [drought-related] [s]carcity,  particularly on Asia's grain markets, has then driven up prices even further." Speculators thus are exonerated, more or less. Everything has above all a ‘natural’, very nearly inevitable cause. The ‘complex’  mix of factors originally mentioned is pushed into the background. (Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 (URL: http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ )

(37) "Some [...] see climate change as the most pressing challenge facing the world, while others now say that biofuels –  grown to offset fossil-fuel use –  is taking food out of the mouths of some of the world's poorest people." (Ibid.)

(38) To some of the journalists who try to find a scape-goat for the present world food crisis, the culprit is easily perceivable. It's largely China, with its "emerging middle classes" because "their consumption of meat has increased by more than 150% per head since 1980. In those days, meat was scarce, rationed at about 1kg per person per month and used sparingly in rice and noodle dishes,  stir fried to preserve cooking oil. 
Today, the average Chinese consumer eats more than 50kg of meat a year. To feed the millions of pigs on its farms, China is  now importing grain on a huge scale, pushing up its prices worldwide." (Robin McKie and Heather Stewart, Ibid.) –  This statement is clearly misleading. Chinese demand for food on the world market has not notably increased during or shortly before the present food price explosion but has been a fairly constant factor for several years (which proves the absurdity of the linkage between ‘added Chinese demand’ and the present food price explosion). We must admit of course that feeding grain to cattle and pigs raised for the purpose of meat production affects the grain market and the price of grain, and is detrimental to the world’s poor as well as ecologically problematic. But what is said here (in the quote) about the connection between grain exports to China and pigs raised in China, can be said with as much justification about the cattle and pig farms of the European Union,  about the ranches of the U.S. , and about cattle raised in Brazil’s Amazon forest (their meat largely destined for the U.S. market).
Blaming the Chinese has a significant but only obliquely expressed meaning: ‘You are taking our grain.’ ‘We may feed relatively scarce grain to the pigs, but not you.’ Under extreme circumstances, and with projected scarcities in mind, the answer could be a Hitlerian one.
Indeed, the answer for any social darwinist or follower of Hitler's tenets would be clear: We're in for a fight, for ever scarcer resources. The strongest will survive. The weak will go down. But in fact, even without policies that bet on or threaten with war, 'peaceful' market economies are anyway about exactly this. The financially strongest, those who can pay the most,  take the best and the most; the crumbs (if any remain) are left  to the weak, the poor, the excluded. It’s a kind of war, too, with deadly effects. As the Chinese writer, Lu Xun, once said: It’s a man-eating society. A society where man eats man. This is what every market-driven society was and is and is going to be.
Unless we opt for a turn-around and make it more humane. Changing our societies for the better would imply that we respect and take serious one another’s essential needs. Not letting anybody go hungry while we have ample food. 

(39)   In Germany (and large parts of the European Union, generally), for instance, a hefty increase in the prize of milk and butter was justified by the new Chinese middle class 'thirst for milk.' But exports of such products to China were ridiculously low, and so this price increase was taken back when local consumers bought much less than before, a fact that quickly resulted in a glut and annoucements like that of an Irish producers that the price of 'Kerry Gold butter' hasn't gone up. (It had gone up considerably, but this increase was revoked.) 

(40)  This is not to deny that regionally, considerable negative effects of draught on the harvest can be observed. For instances,  “[s]oya and palm oils are a major source of calories in Asia, but flooding in Malaysia and a drought in Indonesia have limited supplies." (Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 (URL: http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=336878&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ )

(41)  It was the same with another type of commodity speculation, that which was and is focused on oil. Every announced hurricane that could impair oil production along the
Texas coast, every new twist and turn in the Middle East, every televised video on CNN
that contained real or fake anti-Western threats by some offspring of former business partners 
of the Bush family sent the oil price up. Big players in the business, above all oil corporations,
future and options traders, and heaven knows who else, seize the chance to push the prize up and up.

(42) Food distributed to the poor as 'emergency aid' is typically bought by governments or food aid agencies on the market, thereby further driving up food prices that haven risen in anticipation of future  shortages and future added demand from, amongst other countries, China.

(43) Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  "Hunger. Strikes. Riots. The food crisis bites", in:  MAIL&GUARDIAN ONLINE,  13 April 2008 09:33 (URL:

(44) Ibid.

(45) Ibid.

(46) Ibid.

(47) Ibid.

(48) When pointing out the negative effects of inequality in ‘Third World’ countries, we must not lose sight of (once again) increasing inequality in the United States and Europe where a tendency that appeared to redress the most extreme and outrageous grievances seems to have been reigned in and turned around, and this apparently since the mid-1970s  (a period characterized by  a so-called profit squeeze and a time when mass unemployment began to grow significantly), but even more sharply since the early 1990s (when the ‘competition’ between the ‘East Bloc’ and the ‘Western’ social system came to a halt, a fact that heralded the end of the ‘social democratic era’ in Western Europe and immediately lead to welfare cuts and a revocation of social rights in the ‘West).

(49)  Mrs. Georgieva, a World Bank expert, recently was reported to have stated that “better valuation of the environment” was desirable.(See: “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Can the environment wait? - Presented by the World Bank” in: http://www.iisd.ca/2002/pc4/enbots/may31.html
However, according to the market logic of the World Bank it was deemed necessary to find ways of  “[…]integrating the environmental costs and benefits of action and  inaction into decision making.”(Ibid.)  In other words, if the cost-benefit analysis showed that inaction in the face of environmental degradation was resulting in a tangible cost  [actually showing in the balance sheets of the ‘players’ involved] that was outweighed by far by the profit made, then degradation was the best answer or at least it was not to be corrected. 
Mrs. Georgieva suggested that in all or most cases of ecological degradation which have come up for closer cost-benefit scrutiny, there have always existed “[…]  difficulties that
arose in estimating the benefits of environmental improvements [which could have been undertaken, and this mainly] due to the lack of long-term thinking  and consideration of the needs of future generations."(Ibid.) – 
In other words, as long as short-term business perspectives and calculations matter, it is hard to see why the actors involved in certain ‘business activities’ detrimental to the environment should assume that protecting the environment pays. It’s simply not logical for them, or for World Bank calculators,  Mrs. Georgieva admits. And this, she implies,  will not change as long as it is very rare to take a long-term view of the matter.

(50)  The claim that China’s “arable land [...] is shrinking as farmland has been ravaged  by pollution and water shortages"  (Robin McKie and Heather Stewart,  ibid.) is of course correct. But South Korea’s arable land is shrinking, too. And the same could be said about Japan, about Holland, Germany, or the United States. The reasons for this steady reduction of arable land are diverse. 

(51) [WORLD BANK STATEMENT] “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Can the environment wait? - Presented by the World Bank” in: http://www.iisd.ca/2002/pc4/enbots/may31.html 

(52) Ibid.

(53) The plight of Indonesian migrant laborers, in Singapore, Malaysia,  South Korea, the Arab peninsula (etc.) has been highlighted for some time by grass-roots organizations in their home country while the Western press has been silent about it, more or less. They are robbed of their rights, treated like dirt, subjected to cruel punishment, thrown out of the host country when complaining,  faced with extortion and harrassment by some officials at home when leaving the country or upon their return. See also:  http://ecosocrights.blogspot.com   published by  The Institute for EcoSoc Rights. In their blog [updated February 2008], they identify the problems of migrant workers as a major issue they tackle:  “CURRENTLY we focus on, first, helping resolve the problems of the migrant workers from Indonesia who are  mostly working in Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern countries […]”

(54) [WORLD BANK STATEMENT] “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Can the environment wait? - Presented by the World Bank” in: http://www.iisd.ca/2002/pc4/enbots/may31.html

(55) The World Bank’s recipes, as presented by Mrs. Georgieva, were fully embraced by 
the Head of the Indonesian Delegation speaking at the 25th Session 
of the Governing Council of IFAD [in 2002] when he proclaimed that in order to “alleviate poverty and hunger in our country […] [w]e need assistance in the area  of technology transfer,  opening market access to our products and exports,  micro-finance, infrastructure development and  rehabilitation of our forestry industry among many others."( General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the Twenty-Fifth Session of the Governing Council [of IFAD]”, in: http://www.ifad.org/events/gc/25/speech/indonesia.htm) 
In other words, the main emphasis is on furthering exports. The agricultural sector and the logging industry are targeted with exactly this in mind. In the Democratic Republic Congo, World Bank recipes for the rain-forest foresee “sustainable” logging by (mostly) foreign lumber companies that has been shown to destroy the ecological balance while generating an inflow of foreign  currency. In Brazil and probably, Indonesia, a similar approach is to be expected. As for micro-finance (a strategy first proposed by de Soto in Peru) and certain income-generating strategies suggested by IFAD etc., they are embraced in order to achieve a so-called ‘modernization’ of agriculture.  The foreign and local ‘players’ involved in this game bet on ‘rice fortification’ and similar schemes, which is clearly in the interest of Western agribusiness corporations.

(56) [WORLD BANK STATEMENT] “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Can the environment wait? - Presented by the World Bank” in: http://www.iisd.ca/2002/pc4/enbots/may31.html 

(57)  Ibid. 

(58) Ibid.

(59) See also: Pratiwo, “The City Planning of Semarang, 1900-1970”, in this issue of ‘Art in Society’

(60)  In  Asia, Japanese corporations, for one, have been known to relocate environmentally hazardous segments of the production process from Japan to places like Taiwan in the 1960s and '70s, and they have moved on to other places in S.E. Asia, among them Indonesia, once environmental legislation in Taiwan (legally, a part of China) became  stricter due to prolonged and effective grass-roots protests. The fact that activists speaking for the social and economic rights of the poor in Indonesia demand participatory rights for the poor, for instance the right to have a say with regard to environment standards and safety regulations valid in industrial zones adjacent to their quarters, shows that lessons have been learned from the fight of other  environmental groups in other Asian countries. The populace in Jakarta and elsewhere is learning  from resistance in countries previously targeted by transnationally operating polluters, especially the plastics industry.  Barring increased political repression against them in the name of 'progress' and 'development,' there is some hope that the situation in Indonesia will improve.



The Institute of EcoSoc Rights
Jakarta, Indonesia

According to a report published in 2008 by the Brooks World Poverty Institute,  based at the  University of Manchester (Britain),  "some 40 million people still [live] in [dire] poverty", in post-Suharto Indonesia.(*)

(*) This may be a very optimistic assumption, underestimating the real extent of extreme poverty and of malnutrition. Indonesia is not a paradise in a world where one half of mankind is affected by poverty. 


Historical Profile of Poverty Alleviation in Indonesia 
back-up copy: click here

About IFAD
back-up copy: click here

IFAD and trade liberalization 
back-up copy: click here

General Statement of the Head of Indonesian Delegation at the
Twenty-Fifth Session of the Governing Council 
[of IFAD]
back-up copy: click here

La crise alimentaire risque d'affecter la sécurité, selon l'Onu 
back-up copy: click here

The UN Millenium Project
back-up copy: click here

See also: www.globalpolicy.org

and www.uncapsa.org

800 Million Hungry in World as 21st Century Begins 
back-up copy: click here

1.7 Million [People] Face
Hunger in Indonesia
back-up copy: click here

See also: www.wfp.org

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Can the environment wait? 
    Presented by the World Bank 
back-up copy: click here

Protests in the Wake of the East Asian Financial Crisis
& Household Food Insecurity
back-up copy: click here

Food Riots, Hunger Riots
& Hunger Hypocrites
back-up copy: click here

Historical Profile of 
Poverty Alleviation in Indonesia 
back-up copy: click here

Self-Empowerment Brings Success in Indonesia 
back-up copy: click here

Suharto — A Bandit No More 
How the Brooks World Poverty Institute interprets late 20th Century Indonesian economic history (from 1965 to the East Asian Financial Crisis)
back-up copy: click here

Robert A. Zoellick (World Bank): A Challenge of Economic Statecraft
back-up copy: click here

Models of ending hunger in Indonesia 
back-up copy: click here

The Institute for EcoSoc Rights -
helping to resolve the problems of the migrant workers from Indonesia
back-up copy: click here

Questioning the concept of family doctors in Indonesia 
Source: http://ecosocrights.blogspot.com/
back-up copy: click here

Freedom from hunger 
is a human right,
a civil right!

Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission: A Step in the Right Direction?
back-up copy: click here

2001:  President Wahid resigns because of the BULOG fund scandal
back-up copy: click here

    "Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank, states that the vicious economic cycles that exacerbate environmental degradation are not
deterministic [...] Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank, emphasized the crucial role of environmental improvement in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. She stressed that the goals of productive work and a good quality of life cannot be achieved without a shift  toward sustainable production and consumption and better valuation of the environment. She said key drivers of such a shift include [1.]scientific and technological innovation, [2.] income growth, [3.]expanded markets, [4.]increased mobility of people and ideas, and [5.]
demographic and urban transitions.[...] Georgieva recommended: focusing environmental efforts on areas crucial for sustainable growth and poverty reduction; establishing indicators to measure progress; and integrating the environmental costs and benefits of action and inaction into decision making. She introduced the World Bank’s estimation of costs to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and discussed difficulties that arose in estimating the benefits of environmental improvements due to the lack of long-term thinking
and consideration of the needs of future generations."