Apr 10, 2008

Now, the Food Crisis?

This photograph was on the BBC website, credited only to AP. The caption read; An Iraqi army soldier looks on as a woman picks up rice at a checkpoint in Sadr City, Baghdad. The Shia suburb is suffering food shortages as troops clash with the Mehdi Army militia.

Food price rises threaten global security - UN
David Adam, Guardian

Rising food prices could spark worldwide unrest and threaten political stability, the UN's top humanitarian official warned yesterday after two days of rioting in Egypt over the doubling of prices of basic foods in a year and protests in other parts of the world.

Sir John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and the UN's emergency relief coordinator, told a conference in Dubai that escalating prices would trigger protests and riots in vulnerable nations. He said food scarcity and soaring fuel prices would compound the damaging effects of global warming. Prices have risen 40% on average globally since last summer.

"The security implications [of the food crisis] should also not be underestimated as food riots are already being reported across the globe," Holmes said. "Current food price trends are likely to increase sharply both the incidence and depth of food insecurity."
(9 April 2008)

Grains Gone Wild
Paul Krugman, New York Times

These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis under way — and it’s hurting a lot more people.

I’m talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending.

There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.

How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck — and bad policy.
(7 April 2008)

Food Riots in Haiti and Africa as the Price of Food Skyrockets
Alex, The End of Capitalism

This week, food riots are erupting in the poorest countries of the world, such as Haiti, where the majority of the population lives on under $2 a day. The protesters are calling for the resignation of their government, for its inability to provide basic necessities to the population. See this BBC News short video.

The price of grains, especially wheat (which has doubled in the past year), has been on a steady uphill trend for the past few years, causing major food shortages across much of the Global South.

I want to highlight 4 underlying causes of this global food shortage:

1) Growing Inequality between the wealthiest and poorest people. ...

2) Global Warming is causing unreliable and chaotic weather patterns across much of the food-producing regions of the world. ...

3) Biofuels like ethanol from corn production in the U.S. are quite literally food being used to fuel industry and automobiles. ...

Fear of rice riots as surge in demand hits nations across the Far East
Leo Lewis, UK TImes

Any farmer in the Philippines caught hoarding rice risks spending the rest of his life in jail for the crime of “economic sabotage”.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia, thousands of makers of traditional tempeh soyabean cakes strike in protest as their livelihoods are destroyed and their countrymen starve. In Malaysia, where immense palm oil plantations stretch as far as the eye can see, panic buying of palm oil has stripped stores bare.

Chinese, Korean and Japanese companies are preparing to compete in a desperate “land grab” for agricultural land across the globe. Japan already owns three times more farmland overseas than in its home territory; Seoul is keen to do the same.

For Asia's 2.5 billion people who depend on rice, these are anything but isolated incidents. They are what happens when huge sections of society move into the cities, when farm productivity growth halves over two decades and when bad weather or disease exposes fragile dependencies on the exports of a few nations.

They are also the result of the harsh economics of industrial growth. The dramatic improvement in lifestyles and family finances of millions of Chinese and Indians has driven a demand for meat, milk and cooking oils that did not exist a decade ago.
(8 April 2008)
Contributor Norman Church writes:
Oil wars, water wars, food wars, your guess is as good as mine BUT... you aint seen nothing yet of that I am sure.

Food prices rise beyond means of poorest in Africa
Jonathan Clayton, UK Times

It has been called a “perfect storm” - a combination of apparently unrelated events that have come together to trigger soaring food prices. Millions of people, particularly in developing countries, are affected by rises that have caused riots and many deaths.

Increased energy prices, competition between biofuels and food, rising demand from economic growth in emerging countries and the effects of sudden climatic shocks, such as drought and floods, have combined to cause skyrocketing prices in some of the world's poorest countries, such as Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.

... As ever, the world's poor - those who spend between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of their budget on food - are hit hardest. These groups include rural landless and small-scale farmers, but the biggest impact has been on the world's increasing urban poor.

... Experts say that the only way out for Africa is greater self-sufficiency and alternative sources of energy to cut demand for imported food and oil. They praised an initiative by Sierra Leone to start producing rice from next year and to ban imported rice.
(8 April 2008)