Monday, April 07, 2008

The Global Food Crisis: More Riots on the Horizon

What does that have to do with the price of rice in China, you ask?

As it turns out, everything.

Via The Guardian, Food riots fear after rice price hits a high:

A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world's most important staple foods increase by 50 per cent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis, with countries banning export and threatening serious punishment for hoarders.

With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world's poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Rice is the staple food for more than half the world's population. This is the second year running in which production - which increased in real terms last year - has failed to keep pace with population growth. The harvest has also been hit by drought, particularly in China and Australia, forcing producers to hoard their crops to satisfy local markets.

The increase in rice prices - which some believe could increase by a further 40 per cent in coming months - has matched sharp inflation in other key food products. But with rice relied on by some eight billion people [since the world population now sits at 6.6 billion, as pointed out in the comments, that figure is obviously a mistake. -catnip], the impact of a prolonged rice crisis for the world's poor - a large part of whose available income is spent on food - threatens to be devastating.

Just this past week, there were food riots in Haiti in which 4 people ended up dead.

And yet here we are, in the western world, wasting billions and billions of dollars on warfare to boost corporate profits with the goal of empire-building for its own sake.

Meanwhile the World Food Program has issued yet another urgent appeal for more funds

The World Food Program called on donor nations for urgent help in closing a funding gap of more than $500 million by May 1. If money doesn't arrive by then, Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in a letter to donors, the WFP may be forced to cut food rations "for those who rely on the world to stand by them during times of abject need."

The poorest face hunger as people around the world are being "priced out of the food market," Sheeran told reporters Monday in a conference call.

Citing food prices that had ballooned 55% since June, the WFP disclosed a $500-million shortfall Feb. 25, and the gap has continued to grow ever since, Sheeran said.
The Rome-based WFP feeds at least 73 million people in nearly 80 nations with an annual operating budget of $2.9 billion.

"We've never quite had a situation where aggressive rises in food prices keep pricing operations out of our reach," Sheeran said.

The reasons for the crisis:

Food commodities are becoming more expensive because of rising demand in developing countries, natural disasters and climate change, and the shift of millions of tons of grains to the production of biofuels.

At the same time, Oxfam has raised the alarm over the lack of promised aid follow through from rich nations.

The OECD said aid totalled $103.7bn (£51.8bn) in 2007, a fall of 8.4% in real terms. At the 2005 Gleneagles summit, G8 leaders, led by Tony Blair, committed to a doubling of their aid and to provide an additional $50bn a year by 2010. Three years on, this target looks likely to be missed by as much as $30bn a year, said Oxfam, enough to save 5 million lives. "These figures leave us in no doubt that the world's richest countries are failing to meet their promises to the poorest countries, especially in Africa," said Max Lawson, policy adviser at Oxfam. "The human cost is huge."

The EU's spending target on aid of 0.7% of national income by 2015 also looks badly off track, with aid from the world's richest countries falling from 0.31% in 2006 to 0.28% in 2007.

The OECD report shows only seven countries met or surpassed the 0.7% target, with Norway (0.95%) and Sweden (0.93%) topping the chart.

Though the United States made the largest donation ($21.75bn), it contributed lowest percentage of national income, coming bottom of the charts at 0.16%. The US spends the equivalent of $73 per American each year on aid, but $1,763 a person on defence.

So, once again, we're in the midst of this so-called global war on terror engaged in hyper-military spending with no end in sight while completely ignoring some of its root causes. As Bob Marley reminded us, "a hungry man is an angry man".

These increasing prices and related conditions cannot be sustained without a major impact to all humanity. It's long past time that rich countries change their priorities with a view to ensuring food security and life itself to those who need their help. Words are not enough and half-hearted actions have only created a much larger crisis that we all need to pay attention to right now. Spread the word. Take some action. Demand accountability. Make your voice heard.


Paul Krugman: Grains Gone Wild

Is India facing a food crisis?

Food prices rising around the world (noting violence in Egypt, Burkino Faso, Italy and Cameroon)

The Guardian offers this roundup:

There have been protests in Guinea, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Haiti, Bolivia and Indonesia. In the last two months Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, the Philippines and Thailand have stopped crop exports or raised prices to more than $1,200 a tonne to discourage exports.

A horribly bleak situation...

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