Darwin’s Nightmare

 «Now this is the Law of the Jungle. As old and as true as the sky»
(Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936)

Every day thousands of cargo planes carry lots of food towards wealthy Europe. Well,
this is strange to say, but many of these planes depart from poor world’s area, where hunger and malnutrition are very widespread. How about an example? Tanzania and the region of Mwanza. In fact, “Darwin’s Nightmare”, a 2004 beautiful and melancholic documentary made by the Austrian film director Hubert Sauper, is set right there (specifically, in the region of Lake Victoria).
One of the main characters is an enormous Soviet made Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane that leaves each day from the lake shores towards Europe, loaded with fish. We are talking about Nile perch, better known (in the fish counters of supermarkets) as African perch; you can find it at a very special price. This species of fish is an insatiable predator, strongly appreciated for its meat, which was experimentally introduced in the waters of Lake Victoria in the 1960s. The African perch has fit so well that, in few years, has caused the extinction (or near-extinction) of several hundreds native species. Its white filets have reached supermarkets all over the world, putting in serious difficulty local fishes that can not be sold at the same price.
The documentary shows how perch’s filet production works from local industries (where the fine parts of the fish are treated) to bordering shanty towns (in wich people live only by fishbones and worms).
If you watch “Darwin’s Nightmare”, it’s impossible not to ask yourself: «Why?». The answer is deducible: for profit.
There is a huge difference between fish production in cheap areas and fish distribution in prosperous territories: this is the law of “contemporary jungle”, where producers and consumers are deeply divided by remarkable interests.
Raj Patel, economist and expert in globalization, guide us across the universe of international food companies, that influence every link in the human food chain, from production to consumption: «Guided by the profit motive, the corporations that sell our food shape and constrain how we eat, and how we think about food» (From Raj Patel “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System”, 2007).
Patel starts talking about the paradox of malnutrition in the world (a billion obese people and a billion hungry people) and proves that what appears to be a paradox is, actually, the natural consequence of a system where few big corporations are able to control and take the full advantage of each link in the global food chain.
How should we name all of this? Maybe, Smith’s Nightmare…

Wrtitten by Giordano Golinelli, Fondazione ACRA-CCS

Originally posted on http://blog.zonageografia.scuola.com

Translated from italian by Arianna Rimoldi

Photo Fishing Nile Perch in Lake Victoria (cc) Zoriah