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Letters: Glencore and global food stocks

The dilemma exposed in your article on the World Food Programme buying food for aid distribution from commodity trader Glencore, rather than from smallholder farmers (How £50m in UN food aid for starving was used to buy wheat from Glencore, 6 February), fails to address the heart of the problem, which is the huge underinvestment in small producers in recent years. Buying food directly from smallholder farmers is the ideal scenario, whether to help people in times of crisis, or as part of the everyday supply chain. When WFP buys food from local farmers, this strengthens the ability of communities to withstand crises by stimulating local economies, as well as getting food to people who need it.

However, the quantity of food needed to help hungry people in emergency situations is not always available from local farmers. Unless action is taken to develop the capacity of small-scale food producers to supply food to local markets during crises, organisations such as the WFP will continue to buy from large commodity traders to supply the quantities needed. Governments and donors must invest substantially more in small-scale food producers, especially women, who can play a crucial role in boosting food production and preventing hunger crises before they occur.
Hannah Stoddart
Head of economic justice, Oxfam

• Whether or not the owners of Glencore are billionaires or “able to operate with secrecy from its base in Baar” seems irrelevant. If it can supply grain more cheaply than other providers, more lives are saved. I at least have confidence in the WFP to buy grain at the best price it can.

Food politics is genuinely complicated and rarely as it seems. Russia’s export ban was to dampen down internal prices to make food more affordable within the country (or to prevent the export of grain early in the year, only to be forced to buy it back later, perhaps at a higher price). Argentina has also constrained exports, with the unintended consequence of lowering production. The EU has controlled exports for years (export licences, tariffs on imports, subsidies etc). EU control has caused more volatility in the grain market than a whole raft of speculators by subsidising exports up until 2006. When the EU could no longer shovel grain from store, global prices rose uncontrollably as the market realised that there was a shortage – we have not recovered.

For the wealthy in the UK and EU, food is clearly not important. Current EU proposals for 2014 include the removal of 7% of arable land from production and the imposition of an uneconomic rotation, with a consequent fall in production, with little or no environmental benefit. We already have a policy that is doing its best to kill off development of GM crop production. But don’t worry, we are unlikely to suffer; we’ll export starvation, along with our carbon emissions.

There seems to be some surprise that Glencore “buys up supplies [of wheat] from farmers and sells at a profit”. I have considered buying up wheat from bankers to sell at a loss, but don’t seem to be able to get backing.
Simon Ward
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