AnalysisClimate Crisis

Climate change, capitalism threaten food security for millions in Texas

A recent report released by the Texas Department of Agriculture has linked climate change to growing food insecurity in Texas. Record droughts and record flooding are taking a toll on the state’s ability to grow food. Food deserts where no fresh produce is available are growing in rural areas. Low wages mean that even where food is available, working people’s wages often don’t cover even basic necessities. At the same time, the report acknowledges, multiple companies and nonprofits are often wasting resources duplicating the same distribution networks.

At the heart of the issue is capitalist big agriculture. Wasteful farming techniques that are dependent on the use of vast amounts of freshwater for their elaborate irrigation systems are not only more deeply affected when there is a drought — they help cause it. The current system of agriculture, which also relies heavily on chemical fertilizers, not only degrades the soil, but destroys forests and contributes to global warming.

The report points to increasingly erratic weather patterns as a major cause of lower crop yields. 2022 was one of Texas’ driest years on record, but torrential downpours at the end of the summer caused the total rainfall to be similar to 2021. In some cases, like Dallas-Fort Worth, the rain came as a flood, pouring 13 inches in just 18 hours. Most existing farms cannot operate with severe months-long drought followed by extreme floods.

This problem of irregular rainfall causes other issues that threaten crops. As the report details, it also increases the risk of fires and thus creates more dangerous conditions for the already super-exploited farmworkers. This pattern could lead to restrictions on water use, which would leave the many irrigation-based monocrop farms — the current method of capitalist agriculture — unable to function.

The report warns that the problems of low crop yields will cause greater food insecurity problems, but also cites the rising cost of living and the lack of access to food in rural areas as related to food insecurity.

Texas has the sixth-highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, with about 13.7% of households officially facing food insecurity. Millions of people in Texas do not know where their next meal is coming from. The situation is only getting worse as climate crises increase along with prices, while wages remain stagnant.

Another contributing factor to food insecurity is that multiple companies and non-profits are building the same distribution networks for the same areas. Grocers and food banks often waste resources building the same delivery services into the same markets.

The report recognizes the problems of climate change and poverty wages, but offers meager suggestions as solutions to these issues. That is because it cannot name the true culprit of all of these issues: capitalism.

The report backs away from the issue of raising wages because “it is a very energized and politicized topic,” with “many arguments for and against [wage increases].” This hand-wringing ignores the facts mentioned directly before these statements, which cite an MIT living wage model showing that the minimum living wage for each adult Texan should be at least $17.44 per hour. The Texas minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour.

In order to resolve the issue of food deserts (areas of rural Texas and some impoverished urban areas where residents do not have access to any fresh groceries), the report cites House Bill 1118, which would offer tax credits to grocers who build grocery stores in these rural areas. Tax credits, however, are an extremely ineffective way to solve the problem. Poor and rural people’s survival should not depend on the ability of rich corporations to collect additional subsidies.

It does, however, raise two very important issues when it comes to combating hunger. First, it cites the underfunding and inaccessibility of government food assistance programs that could expand their reach to online and delivery options, as well as expand their services in general.

Second, by mentioning the inefficiencies of food distribution in rural markets, it hints at the real solution. Many stores want to expand to rural areas, and many food banks are buying trucks in order to extend into these areas. But it is not profitable for the for-profit stores to collaborate with food banks, and the food banks only have limited resources and offerings.

Both of these issues could be effectively solved with central planning that puts people’s lives over profit. 

Cuba, for example, uses agroecology to produce food locally, based on diverse and healthy crops on healthy land. The system of agroecology — one that embraces biodiversity and native plants — is not only beneficial for the planet, but it makes the food more nutritious, mitigates the risks of things like droughts, and produces more food locally so that regional food insecurity is less of an issue. Where chemical fertilizer-based monocrop farming robs the soil and the resulting crops of their nutrients, agroecology methods replenish the soil and plan for nutritious crop yields for generations to come.

In Texas, droughts caused by climate change and capitalist farming techniques are threatening the food supply for millions of people, worsening conditions for farmworkers, causing hunger and lack of access to food in rural areas, and worsening an already terrible cost-of-living crisis. We need effective and radical solutions to the problems we face, not half-measures that put more money in corporations’ pockets. The report by the state of Texas identifies the problems but cannot name the solution. Only a reorganization of agriculture and society can truly combat food insecurity and climate change.

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