The Independent View: Lost hours playing Snake – and reining in the banks on food pricing

About a decade ago I was addicted to the classic Nokia game, Snake. If I had a spare few minutes I’d be guiding my pixelated reptile around the black and white screen of my mobile phone, trying to beat my high score. It was simple, hopelessly addictive and I couldn’t put it down.

As I happily helped the Snake on my screen eat itself full, like most people I was blissfully unaware that something was seriously unfair with global food pricing. The rules governing how much food costs – and banks taking advantage of them – was, and still is, locking millions around the world in poverty.

On 4th September, the EU is meeting to agree new rules on food speculation. Food speculation is a grossly unfair and cynical practice, whereby banks and investors bet on food prices in unregulated financial markets. Investors have been treating commodity markets as if they were stocks, betting on their price increasing.

Goldman Sachs made an estimated £251 million (US$400 million) from food speculation in 2012. Barclays has made up to an estimated three-quarters of a billion pounds from betting on food prices between 2010 and 2012.

Meanwhile people like Gertrude Kamanga, a stallholder in a textile market in Malawi, have seen the price of a 50kg bag of maize more than double in the last year. J.B. Jana, an electrician from Zomba – not far from where the maize price increase was recorded in Malawi – told us how he has to choose between buying food or medicine for his family, because there isn’t enough money for both.

For the last four years the World Development Movement has been campaigning for new European rules to prevent bankers from excessive speculation. On 4 September, EU decision makers will be meeting to try and agree these rules. As ever the financial lobby are fighting hard against regulation.

We need to keep up public pressure to ensure decision makers stand firm and agree rules that are strong and effective.

So where does Snake come in to all of this? At WDM we’ve adapted the classic game so that each time your snake eats one of the blocks, the letters of the banks driving food speculation are spelt out. By playing the game you’ll also be signing a petition calling on the EU to end these unfair and unsustainable hikes in food pricing.

When you sign up you’ll also lengthen our own barrier tape which we will use in a stunt to rein in the banks, in Brussels at a meeting on 4 September. Each person who signs up will lengthen the tape by 10cm, strengthening the public voice against food speculation in Brussels on the 4th.

Click here to play WDM’s Snake.

I hope you’ll be joining us for a touch of gaming nostalgia, in the knowledge that you’ll be taking meaningful action for a fairer world where everyone has access to what they need to get on in life.

Get a high score and you may even make it onto our leaderboard.

Don’t forget to follow developments at the meeting in Brussels at www.wdm.org.uk/food-speculation.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Ted Burke is a volunteer for the World Development Movement

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3 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 28th Aug '13 - 1:49pm

    I had a look at the website which is fascinating reading. Plenty of statement about ‘bankers’ ( I think they mean asset managers) forcing prices up – no actualy evidence. It mis understands the most fundemental point about futures contracts that if one person is betting on prices rising, another is betting on their falling.

    ‘Food Soveriegnty’ is dangerous nonsense – basically anti free trade.

  • Paul in Twickenham 28th Aug '13 - 2:18pm

    @Simon – I’m afraid that your comment about a bet with a buyer and a seller is not quite correct. While the purchase of a single futures contract is (as you say) just a bet, the situation changes where the trader is trading large quantities of contracts. In this case it can cause significant price effects as suppliers choose to hoard now in the hope/expectation of achieving a higher price in the future. Similarly, the market can be distorted where the trader is also a supplier (think of Enron and their manipulation of the spot electricity market in California).

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