by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 2, 2008
FOOD SHORTAGES MEAN BIG TROUBLE FOR POOR NATIONS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In the past few months, there have been food riots and social unrest in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, the Philippines and Senegal.
The World Bank estimates that dozens more nations around the world face potential conflicts over rising food and energy prices.
Even in the developed world, there have been protests. Angry Italians recently staged demonstrations over rising pasta prices and 70,000 people took to the streets in Mexico to protest a 50 percent price increase for tortillas.
Without a doubt, food prices are soaring. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) estimated that the price of cereals, daily, produce, meat, sugar and oils was 57 percent higher in April than in March,
In most of the world, food takes up half to three-quarters of the meager income of the poor. With food prices now out of control, the World Bank estimates that as many as 100 million people have been pushed into poverty in the past two years and that figure will grow in the coming year.
The result is that for the first time in decades, the threat of widespread hunger is looming for tens of millions of the world's poorest citizens.
Why? It's due to a combination of a growing global population, soaring energy costs, a growing appetite for meat and dairy products by the Asian middle class, crops being grown for biofuels rather than food, bad crop harvests in Australia and Canada and the ever-present speculators ready to turn a quick buck on someone else's misfortune.
As a result, food prices are at an inflation-adjusted 30-year high and global food stockpiles have shrunk to dangerously low levels.
The picture is not expected to improve. The world's population now stands at 6.6 billion people, or double what it was in 1965. While population growth is slowing and there still is, in theory, enough food produced to feed everyone, millions are starving because they do not earn enough money to buy food.
Then there is the diversion of crops from the dinner table to the gas tank. You may have noticed that the gasoline now being sold around Vermont is mixed with ethanol. Corn that was once grown for food is now being turned into fuel. Former World Bank economist Peter Hazell estimates that filling an SUV's gas tank once with ethanol consumes more maize than the typical African eats in a year.
Climate change is also playing havoc with growing patterns. Drought in Australia, the third-largest wheat exporter after the United States and Canada, wiped out half of its crop in 2007. Canada also saw a 20 percent drop in its wheat production.
Even if both countries see a better growing season in 2008, other nations are seeing weather-related drops in production that could worsen with climate change. The UN has predicted climate change could reduce global crop yields up to 21 percent by 2080.
There are solutions to this problem. Reducing the use of corn to make ethanol would be a good start. Improved irrigation and production techniques in Africa to increase crop yields would also help. While the shortages of water and tillable land are real, crop production can easily be increased in the United States, Canada and Ukraine.
But all these are long term projects.
In the short term, it's going to be difficult to boost food production. The UN will try stave off catastrophe by coming up with $775 million for its World Food Program and another $1.7 billion of agricultural aid for the world's poorest countries.
Other choices by individuals, from eating less meat to using less gasoline, can have an impact. Quite simply, those of us who have more than enough must give up a little so everyone can have what they need.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.