Enforce the human right to adequate food or increase your profits?

Enforce the human right to adequate food or increase your profits?

By Julio Prudencio Böhrt

In recent months, the political opposition to the current government has been intensely active and has not hesitated to politicize certain socioeconomic issues, including the food issue, using for this purpose not only the media at its service but also a series of publications that generate confusion, doubts and fears among the population that is not necessarily a specialist on the subject.

An analysis about the interpretations of the food crisis in Bolivia

In recent months, the political opposition to the current government has been intensely active and, to that end, has not hesitated to politicize certain socio-economic issues, including the food issue, using for this purpose not only the media at its service but also also to a series of publications [1] through which they have been permanently misinforming the population or providing incomplete information, which raises confusion, doubts and fears among the population that is not necessarily a specialist on the subject, so it is necessary to clarify certain aspects in this food situation, with a more objective perspective.


National analysts argue that the food crisis is due to various reasons such as deteriorating weather conditions; the increase in demand from certain emerging economies and population growth; to the production of biofuels and the price of fuels that affect the prices of transport and fertilizers; the low level of world stocks; global population growth and resource constraints that influence demand and supply.

Although some of these arguments are valid, they are a half truth [2] since they do not say anything about the neoliberal economic model that they imposed on our countries - the true cause of the crisis - expressed in that agricultural model of the single-export agribusiness and the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; in Structural Adjustment Policies; in the disappearance of government agricultural extension agencies, in the exclusive support to agroindustry with credits and technological research for export crops; in the liberalization of trade as a reflection of the agreements in the WTO that meant lowering tariffs and opening the borders so that all kinds of millionaire subsidized products enter; and in the pressure to sign the Free Trade Agreements (first the FTAA and now the CAN-EU Agreement), under totally unequal and disadvantageous conditions for national production and peasant producers who cannot compete under those conditions, reasons why those that our markets are flooded with foreign food products that displace our national production.

Part of this model that causes the crisis is financial speculation - also not mentioned in the diagnoses described - carried out on a large scale by large companies, with figures of speculative investment in Commodity futures (merchandise) that increased from 5,000 million dollars in the year 2,000 to 175,000 million dollars in 2007 [3]. Half of the wheat now traded on the Chicago Commodities Exchange is controlled by mutual funds, who set the sale prices they want.


Analysts raise a series of questions about the measures taken by the government, among which the following stand out:

The temporary ban on exports It is argued that this measure is a national myopia that affects future export agreements and that the prohibited quantities do not affect domestic supply at all. This argument forgets that it was a measure intended to curb the rise in prices of certain products, since it was intended to reduce the supply in the domestic market for a price escalation. The entire population was clearly aware of the political move to destabilize the market by creating a domestic shortage. Faced with this situation, the State has the obligation to protect the population's access to food at affordable and non-speculative prices. The opposite was a violation of that human right.

This export restriction measure - which is not disastrous as they try to show us - is already taken by various countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, which banned wheat exports, and also by China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and Cambodia, among others. countries, which have severely prohibited or restricted rice exports, prioritizing its domestic consumption.

Food imports This government measure was condemned as unnecessary as they argued that there was no shortage of any product. "The government has launched a suicidal policy of importing rice, corn and other products for certain sectors of the population." They forget that this measure was not used due to lack of food but to stabilize the prices of certain unjustifiably high products. Another reason for this direct import was to buy the basic consumer product of the population (wheat flour) and avoid speculation on the part of commercial intermediaries. With exorbitantly high prices, they tried to create social discontent and forced the population to consume less food.

The result of the two previous governmental measures - in the course of time - is that in the national market the price fell from the speculative levels in which some basic foods were found.

The Armed Forces on the food issue. The intervention of the armed forces in the fight against smuggling and the intention to use the lands in their possession for growing food was also criticized. It is suggested that the armed forces would be fulfilling a new role as landowners with conscript farmers.

In this matter they also forget that for several years (small) efforts have been made to control smuggling (with the intervention of Customs, the creation of Customs Operational Commands and others) without positive and completely insufficient results, and that both the Contraband that enters the country (which currently represents more than 1,200 million dollars) and the products that leave (food, diesel, gas and others) are increasingly numerous. Given the breadth of borders, corruption, technology and the power of smugglers' weapons, it is naive to think of stopping the problem without the intervention of the armed forces [4].

Regarding the proposal to use the lands held by the armed forces for basic crops such as wheat and others, it is not only positive but must be extended to other areas [5], urban and rural, and not only of the armed forces but also from other institutions such as municipalities.

Finally, it is striking that the analysts do not express anything regarding the series of actions that the government is implementing on the issue of promoting domestic food production, such as the projects with PASA / European Union; credits to community companies through TCP-ALBA; the projects of the Food Production Support Company (EMAPA); microcredit programs for food production; the Bolivian dairy company, the cattle repopulation, the soy program, the Seed Provision Plan and several others from the CRIAR program (Creation of rural food initiatives) in which they claim to have invested several million dollars. Why this omission?


Another aspect that stands out is the ease with which analysts use certain sources of information, citing only some parts of those reports and decontextualizing the citations.

An example of the above is the references to paragraphs on exports in the OXFAM report entitled “From the price crisis to the food crisis”. This report recommends governments not to resort to a food export ban because it could negatively affect food importing countries.

We are sure that OXFAM does not refer to countries that have problems of internal shortages or problems of price rises due to the policy of monopolistic companies that seek to create social discontent among the population.

In the face of food price speculation such as the one that the country experienced a short time ago (in the case of oil, chickens, etc.), OXFAM would surely support government intervention that prioritized the supply of food at non-speculative prices over profits (at the cost of internal shortages) of exporting companies.

Likewise, it is noteworthy that analysts do not cite other aspects of the same report: the call to countries and international institutions to reform the current trading system for agriculture (trade agreements, the WTO); that real access to the world market be reformed by countries like Bolivia; o that backward countries be supported to protect themselves and countries to invest more in the agricultural sector and rural development.


Analysts also make a series of proposals on the food issue:

  • Faced with the government measure of importing products subject to speculation [6], they argue that the government should buy domestic products at high prices to place them under advantageous conditions for the less favored population and in no case import these products since production is subsidized foreign.

If this had been done, the speculation of the producers who have the monopoly and the agro-industry would have been subsidized [7]; to speculating intermediary merchants and smugglers, and it would have contributed to the permanent rise in prices by uncontrolling the market as intended. It would be different if they recommended paying fair prices to peasant producers than, due to unequal terms of trade, for many years they have provided cheap food to the national population, at prices that cannot even cover their production and transportation costs.

  • They argue that trade in imports and exports should be freed to avoid distortions in the market. They do not want to remember that for several years the market was almost completely liberalized with the results that we already know: massive income of food products subsidized millions of dollars by their countries of origin, which make unfair competition to our internal agricultural production that cannot be exported either because the other countries protect themselves with various tariffs and phytosanitary restrictions.

The analysts who call for greater trade liberalization as a solution to the food crisis [8] are decidedly outside the national reality. What they want is to open the market more and let the free market rule so that a few (large) companies, investors [9] and speculators can make more money. For this purpose, they do not hesitate to maintain that the current government measures are damaging the national productive apparatus.

  • They argue that an effective policy of modification in consumption habits should be adopted to take better advantage of the abundance of products of our biodiversity and or of greater consumption of the nutritious foods that we have (potatoes, cassava, quinoa, amaranth). However, how can the abundance of domestic products be better exploited by opening imports unrestrictedly to subsidized products in their countries of origin? Can you compete with trillions of dollars annually in grant? Isn't it because of the massive influx of imported food and the donations [10] that reach the country - at reduced prices - that the population's eating habits are changing?
  • Biofuels are also a proposal they propose, arguing that Bolivia has great potential for the production of biofuels in ethanol and biodiesel; that we have large tracts of uncultivated land that could be used for this with adequate regulatory mechanisms; that biofuels constitute a source of income for peasant producers who grow this raw material and that with these income they could stop migrating and access the market to all kinds of food that they now do not have, and finally, that there are no reasons not to dabble in that production.

To these arguments should be added others that are heard internationally, such as that biofuels offer opportunities for poverty reduction through the stimulation of stagnant agricultural sectors, thus creating jobs for agricultural workers and markets for small producers; and that biofuels can increase access to energy for underserved communities.

Unfortunately in the country there is not enough information available in this regard, however there are several international studies that show that the production of biofuels has a series of effects, the main ones being:

- Increase in the price of basic consumer foods [11] since the production of biofuels generates a competition of resources with food and other products (inputs for livestock, balanced food) as recognized by institutions such as the OECD and FAO [12], which leads to an increase in food insecurity of poor people due to the higher cost of basic consumer foods and their low income.

This increase in the price of basic foods would also suggest that the beneficiaries are the poor agricultural producers themselves, however it is known that the increase in prices is not adequately transmitted to the producers because the markets do not function perfectly. The great intermediation that exists in local and regional markets, between the producer and the consumers, means that commercial intermediaries (wholesalers, retailers, importing and exporting companies, supermarkets, etc.) capture most of the price increases and only a small margin on these prices goes to the producer [13].

- The use of large amounts of water (while important sectors of rural and suburban populations do not have access to drinking water and there is no water for irrigation of peasant agricultural crops), exacerbating its scarcity and also generating difficulties for farmers and nearby communities to grow your own produce (by drying the nearby water wells).

- In the environment by the destruction of fragile ecosystems [14], in deforestation [15] and in the destruction of wetlands. This also implies damage to livelihoods due to unsustainable plantation practices that damage the surrounding water, air and land.

- Conflicts over land, as is already being perceived in the Guarayos province of the department of Santa Cruz due to the expansion of the industrial cultivation of soybeans and sugar cane for the production of biodiesel [16]. This will also lead to the loss of land [17] of peasant farmers (they will lose their livelihood) which will increase migration and displacement of people - especially the poorest - to the cities.

- Those farmers and peasant producers who opt for the production of cereals, sugar, oilseeds and vegetable oils for the production of ethanol and biodiesel, run the risk of heavy exploitation as they will not be the main beneficiaries of this business - as is currently occurring in Brazil and Colombia with small farmers - as they do not have the capacity to set sales prices [18] and even less to transform / process those products or export them directly [19]. Only the exporting entrepreneurs that have ties and contacts with abroad and with Transnational Corporations (TNCs) [20] will be the beneficiaries.

In the case of peasants who work as wage earners on large plantations, the unworthy working conditions that we already know would surely be repeated (low wages, inaccessibility to drinking water, inadequate habitat, lack of health services, etc.).

- Finally, under the agroindustrial model that is still in force, these possibilities of access to energy in favor of the poor are not evident since it is clear that exporting entrepreneurs will prioritize monetary gain before energy for the poor. Likewise, it is difficult to believe that new areas of tropical forests will not be affected or that it will be produced under adequate regulatory mechanisms, knowing the limitations that the Bolivian State is going through to enforce the ordinances and laws. The premise of the energy profitability of soy for biofuels is also highly questioned. According to a study (Arce C. “The importance of a serious debate on biofuels.” Habitat Magazine. 2008 LIDEMA) citing sources from the University of California and Cornell, the balance is negative even including the energy from the soy residue which can be used as balanced food.

  • Analysts also argue that this moment is a great opportunity for Bolivia since it is a country rich in two basic inputs for food production: abundant land and water.

Despite this statement, the land issue is not analyzed at all. They do not mention anything about the concentration of lands in the east [21] - most of the lands of illegal possession - nor about those lands that do not fulfill the social economic function. Nor do they comment on the obstacles posed by landowners to impede the process of measuring and cleaning the land; of the necessary redistribution of public lands to beneficiaries of indigenous peoples and communities that lack land. Doesn't the land issue have to do directly with the crisis and food production?

On the issue of water, they maintain that there are large multiple-use projects (Abapó, Izozog and others) that are sleeping in the Ministries and that it is necessary to think big to face the challenge of true food security.

In this regard, it is good to remember that the rural development model supported in the past, based on the approach of macro projects, that is, projects of great material magnitude and financial investment as well as the incentive to the use of agrochemicals (green revolution) to Increasing the yield of those products that had the highest commercial demand at the national and especially international level, has benefited a few agribusinesses and has not generated positive changes in the domestic production of basic foods or in the peasant economy, but quite the opposite: a strong land erosion, soil depletion, low productivity, loss of agricultural diversification, poor market linkage, heavy migration, household food insecurity, high levels of malnutrition and low income. In sum, the conditions of poverty under these large projects have deepened.

At this time, it is necessary to change the vision of the “big projects” towards projects that directly benefit small and medium-sized farmers, who are the ones that provide most of the basic foodstuffs and those with the least economic resources. A concrete example constitutes the experience that is currently being developed in the Mancomunidad de Municipios Héroes de la Independencia de Tarija [22], which with the support of some NGOs (such as the Institute for Peasant Research and Training-IICCA and Diógenes Vides) implements a strategy peasant-based development, based on projects to capture water for irrigation [23] through small dams, water cut-offs and / or individually and / or communally owned ponds; with a series of repercussions such as the increase in agricultural production and productivity; enabling new lands for agricultural use; increase in the number of crops per year and stabilization of production; increase in the population's food consumption; greater incorporation into the market (national and exports); benefits to the environment (greater vegetation cover); increase in economic income, decrease in production costs and even a brake on the migration of families participating in the project.


From what has been analyzed so far, it is clearly perceived that there is a political intention in the arguments held by the analysts, rather than technical arguments. It is also perceived that they question - on the food issue - the role that the Bolivian State is playing at this time.

It is also clear that the State has been presented with a double dilemma - at this juncture of food political crisis - which can be expressed in the following questions:

a) What type of citizen has priority in government plans and policies: the one who must satisfy their nutritional needs and improve their food-nutrition or the one who must increase their economic earnings with food?

b) Should the government assure all Bolivians compliance with the Human Right to Adequate Food or should it continue with the model of liberalization / unrestricted opening of the market that is now incompatible with the previous scheme?

We welcome the efforts that prioritize achieving adequate nutrition for all Bolivians based on food sovereignty, prioritizing local and regional markets and applying measures to reduce market dominance by intermediaries and large companies . However, these efforts are insufficient for the challenge presented to the country.

It must be considered that this situation is an opportunity to reorient the agricultural and food production system, no longer based on a trade liberalization model but by encouraging our national production to achieve food security with sovereignty, to reduce poverty and generate jobs.

Likewise, at this juncture of international food crisis, which according to specialized organizations will last several more years, the agricultural sector has a great opportunity to become a source of income because the prices of food products will continue to rise as a result of strong demand, which will allow us to open markets for food products that we did not export before, and also because it can play a fundamental role in improving and sustaining the environment. To achieve all this, it is necessary to reflect on the sector and rethink the new role that the agricultural sector should play in national development. In that sense, it is necessary to mention some aspects:

1) Bolivia has a series of favorable ecological conditions (highlands, valleys, tropics, chaco) where all kinds of food can be produced and in large quantities, however, to exploit this advantage, the population's access must be supported and deepened indigenous food producer to productive resources (land and water).

On the subject of land, the process of measuring and cleaning up land should be deepened, as well as the titling of TCOs, and the distribution of public lands to landless farmers, ensuring compliance with the social economic function and other aspects already established in the Law. In water, it is essential to support access to the availability of water for irrigation for small and medium producers, without which it will not be possible to increase the production or productive yields of food crops.

2) To further support national production until the food security of the entire population is fully satisfied. Later, export to help generate income for poor populations. For this purpose, the basic productive infrastructure (water projects for irrigation, roads, energy, processing plants) must be strengthened and production supported with credits, certified seeds, organic fertilizer, technological training and extension services, and integrated management of pests among others.

3) In the aspects of food distribution and marketing, actions should also continue to be implemented to avoid distortions in the market, complemented by the creation of regional collection centers to better face the natural disasters that occur each year in the country, and implement systems of local and regional information on prices and demand of products, quality, training in marketing, etc.

4) The national market must be expanded with internal production, for which the school breakfast and snack programs must be extended to all municipalities in the country, with exclusively national production (local, regional). Similarly, all programs with food donations must be carried out with food of national origin.

5) It is urgent to improve the management / administration in government departments related to the sector with greater internal coordination as well as with external institutions, and to raise the level of civil servant professionalism to better take advantage of the support opportunities that the sector requires.

6) Improve their management / management and expand / deepen their coverage, those programs that the government is implementing such as the Zero Malnutrition Program, food transformation / processing, promote and support wheat production, expand the influence of EMAPA, fair price fairs and other initiatives aimed at food security and sovereignty.

7) Put into practice the Human Right to Adequate Food (DHAA) with a law that allows create a national food security system (to articulate the various actions, coordinate policies, determine vulnerable groups, food safety, etc); implement actions in communication / awareness / training and information to the population about DHAA (at the level of government and municipal officials, the National Congress, the Judiciary, and even in the school / university curriculum); implement a monitoring and evaluation system (permanently fed with indicators on food production, distribution, marketing, consumption-nutrition, income levels and others that indicate the causes of malnutrition and hunger) and a food bank (with the participation of private companies, producer organizations, the State and international cooperation) to confront food speculation, face natural disasters and support the undernourished population.


[1] Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno magazine published by the Instituto Prisma y Plural editores. La Paz, June 2008, where several analysts speak on the issue of the food crisis (in this regard see

[2] Recent FAO reports maintain that cereal production in 2007 had an increase of 4% compared to 2006 and that enough food is produced in the world to adequately feed all inhabitants. He does not blame the crisis on the increase in food consumption in emerging countries such as India or China, as some commentators claim, nor on the increase in population that had a growth rate below the growth rate of world cereal production .

[3] P. Waldie "Why grocery prices are set to soar" quoted in "The business of starvation." GRAIN April / 2008

[4] With quite positive results so far, as evidenced by the press almost daily

[5] The land around the railroad tracks and airports, urban areas not suitable for construction and various others as recommended in what is called urban agriculture, widespread in several industrialized and non-industrialized countries, implementing technologies of all kinds such as hydroponics that use even the spaces of the roofs of the buildings for the production of vegetables.

[6] The achievement of which was, as can be seen now that some time has passed, the reduction of prices from speculative levels to more adequate levels.

[7] Which already receives the majority of the diesel subsidy (between $ 250-300 million per year).

[8] Position criticized even by emerging countries such as China at the recent meeting of the Group of 8 (G-8) in Toyako.

[9] On the issue of investors they also contradict each other. On the one hand, they complain that the current government measures make foreign investment escape; that the country does not offer legal security to investments and other arguments. But on the other hand, when the investment arrives, as in the case of the company Gravetal with soybeans, they threaten to dismiss it if they do not plan to install a biodiesel factory (El Deber newspaper 06/16/2008 Santa Cruz).

[10] Foods that are often unrelated to our eating habits, and not as nutritionally rich as national products.

[11] Hasta el propio Banco Mundial – en recientes informes -reconoce que el desarrollo de los biocarburantes provocó un alza del 75% del precio de los alimentos desde el año 2002. Sólo el 15% del alza del precio de los alimentos se debería al incremento en el precio de la energía y los fertilizantes. (Periódico La Razón 5/07/2008)

[12] OCDE-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2007-2016. Paris-Roma 2007

[13] Respecto a la intermediación que existe en Bolivia y los altos márgenes de ganancia que captan los intermediarios comerciantes en los productos alimenticios, ver el estudio “Integración regional y producción campesina. La urgencia de políticas de soberanía alimentaria” Prudencio J. y Ton G. CIOEC La Paz, 2004

[14] Debido al monocultivo, la degradación de los suelos y el uso intensivo de los agroquímicos.

[15] En Bolivia, el 66% de los desmontes ocurridos en el 2005 se concentraron en Santa Cruz (214.000 Has), y el 65% de los desmontes de ese departamento ocurrieron en 6 municipios: San Julian, El Puente, Santa Rosa del Sara, San Pedro, Ascensión de Guarayos y Yapacaní, es decir zonas soyeras (Muñoz A. ¿Biocombustibles en Bolivia? Foro Boliviano sobre Medio Ambiente y desarrollo. La Paz). Para el 2003 se calcula una deforestación de 300.000 Has. La ONG –CIPCA- también denunció la fuerte deforestación que se realiza en los últimos años en varios municipios de la provincia Guarayos del departamento de Santa Cruz, y su negativo efecto en las TCO (Tierras Comunitarias de Origen) (CIPCA Notas, Febrero 2008)

[16] Fundación TIERRA. Proyecto de investigación. Soya-biodiesel y el conflicto por la tierra en Guarayos. La Paz.

[17] Las NNUU ya advirtió que 60 millones de indígenas de todo el mundo están en riesgo de ser echados de sus tierras para hacer sitio a las plantaciones de biocombustibles (

[18] Los precios de la soya, maíz, trigo y otros se fijan por su cotización en la bolsa de valores como la de Chicago. Los operadores – mayoritariamente conformados por capitales especulativos – venden y compran en el llamado “mercado de futuros” según la oferta y demanda, siendo ellos quienes determinan los precios.

[19] Una serie de cuestionamientos surgen al respecto. Por ejemplo, a quienes venderían sus productos? Venderían a precios justos? Cuanto ganarían los productores de la materia prima respecto al precio de venta final? Podrían los campesinos agricultores instalar una planta de procesamiento? Tienen los recursos y la tecnología necesarias para el efecto? Tienen vínculos con las compañías que procesan o elaboran los biocombustibles? Podrían ellos exportar directamente o necesariamente tienen que vincularse con los empresarios exportadores? En que condiciones?

[20] Quienes son en realidad las mayores beneficiarias de este negocio. Por ejemplo, en el comercio de granos, en el primer trimestre del 2008, la Archer Daniels Midland tuvo un beneficio bruto de 1.150 Millones $us (55% más que en el mismo periodo del 2007), la Cargill 1.030 Millones $us (86% más que en 2007); la Bunge 867 millones $us (189% más que en el 2007). En las Compañías de semillas, la Monsanto tuvo beneficios brutos de 2.230 millones $us y la Dupont 786 millones $us (21% de crecimiento) (Shawn Hattingh Liberación de alimentos, comercio de la muerte. Citado por H.Lopez B. en Crisis mundial de alimentos: compañías millonarias, hambrientos por millones./content/view )

[21] Donde algunas familias poseen más de 290.000 hectáreas (Periódico La Prensa 12/12/2007)

[22] Municipios de Yunchara (Potosí), El Puente, Uriondo y San Lorenzo (Tarija).

[23] Complementada con asistencia técnica agropecuaria y capacitación en manejo de agua, y un fondo rotativo de créditos (Fondo Campesino de Solidaridad-FONCASOL- que presenta una serie de modalidades específicas y adecuadas al medio rural como por ejemplo el manejo de los fondos por los propios beneficiarios, bajas tasas de interés, créditos individuales y comunales y otros, fondo que presenta una baja tasa de morosidad y cuenta con el apoyo de algunas instituciones internacionales como por ejemplo la Inter American Foundation entre otros).

Video: Gestational Diabetes: Patient experience (January 2022).