"The Hunger That is Eating the World"

It's very easy -- and often important -- to become engrossed in the fine details of the immediate politics of the day. But, as George Eliot noted, "there must be a systole and diastole in all inquiry;" the mind "must be continually expanding and shrinking between the whole human horizon and the horizon of an object-glass." The object-glass is daily politics; but on the broader horizon of inquiry, there are vast forces at work -- environmental, economic, social -- whose interrelated movements, like the slow grinding of tectonic plates, will bring forth unanticipated shifts and cataclysms in the politics of the future. Even now, the ground is moving under our feet, generating ripples and tremors -- warning signs of the fissures and eruptions to come.

Jonathan Watts' story in The Guardian -- The Hunger That is Eating the World -- gives us a look at some of these broader processes at work. It deals with the very basic commodities trade between China and Brazil that is not only upending the world agricultural economy but also devouring the "lungs" of the planet: the Amazon rain forest. It all comes down to beans, to protein: the need for China to feed the workers driving its insatiable economic growth, which is bidding fair to pass that of the United States as an engine of environmental destruction.

The whole article is well worth reading -- and it seems that the print version was more detailed -- but here are some excerpts (emphasis added):
The confidence of the [farming] families who are moving to newly cleared [rain forest] land...reflects a giant shift that is taking place in the global food trade as Brazil becomes a leading supplier of protein for China. From space you can see why. Since 1995 satellite images show the Amazon has shrunk by 1.7m hectares (4.2m acres) a year - equivalent to a forest almost the size of Israel being turned into farmland every 12 months.

During the same period China has lost more than 6m hectares of arable land to cities, factories, roads and deserts. Self-sufficient in most food and energy commodities 15 years ago, China must now import millions of kilocalories to fuel its workers just as it needs lakes of international oil to keep its production lines running. Most of the protein comes in the form of soya beans from Brazil, which are used to fatten pigs, poultry and fish that end up on the dinner tables of the world's most populous country....

As in China, the losers of modernisation are local farmers, who are priced or pushed off their land. Maria dos Santos, of the smallholders union in Santarem, said 500 families had been relocated, a fifth of them by force. Benoir Jean of a French NGO, Groupe de Recherche et d'Echanges Technologiques, said people were being shot and homes burned in the drive to secure land for soya. "It has created a climate of fear in which people are afraid to talk."