Monday, 23 June 2008

Who Will Soon Go Hungry? Reasons for the food shortage in the world.

Increasing food prices have recently been blamed on food shortages though there are no major crop failures, famines, pestilence or other tangible epidemic involving large areas in the world today, where food production drops drastically. 
Is this food crisis going to affect the rich nations or will it drive the starving poor into even more abject despair?

There are winners and losers in this crisis. The Farm Belt has become one of the most prosperous regions of the United States due to skyrocketing food prices, while many regions in the world have slid from poverty into hunger. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization, a branch of the United Nations, has identified 36 "crisis" countries, 21 of which are in Africa. 

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Paul Krugman in his article gives four main reasons for the present food crisis:

  1. The explosive growth of high-calorie food habits in emerging economies like China. 700 calories of animal feed is needed to produce a 100-calorie chunk of beef.
  2. Rise in oil prices. Modern food production is highly energy intensive, so high fuel costs drive food prices up. The invasion of Iraq, rather than lower oil prices, raised them.
  3. Climate change resulting in drought and crop decreases in key wheat growing areas like Australia.
  4. Complacence in the food market: precautionary inventories have shrunk on the belief that more can always be imported.

Most of the Starving People Live in Developing Countries

An estimated 820 million of the 850 million people in the world today suffering from hunger, live in developing countries. 

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These are the countries most affected by climate change. Food prices have risen 83% in the last three years, according to the World Bank, pushing 100 million more people into hunger.

Have governments and international organisations taken the spectre of doom seriously? The UN summit on global food crisis called by secretary general Ban Ki Moon declared that world food production must rise by 50% by 2030, trade barriers should be lowered and export bans removed to stop the spread of hunger.
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Rich countries spend billions of dollars on farm subsidies and wasteful food consumption. 

"The excess consumption by the world's obese costs $20bn annually, to which must be added indirect costs of $100bn resulting from premature death and related diseases," 
according to the director-general of the UN's Food And Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf. He adds that the unprecedented hike in food prices, which rose 52 percent between 2007 and 2008 led to explosion of agricultural imports in the last 30 years. 

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Africa has become a net importer of agricultural commodities.
  • 87 percent of which were food products in 2005. 
  • Only 14 percent of Africa’s 184 million hectares of arable land is under cultivation and most of the rest in a state of accelerated degradation.
Many food-exporting countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have tried limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers. Not only has this led to angry protests from farmers because of losses in income, but it has also made things even worse in countries that need to import food. 

Different Approaches to Food Shortage Problems

There are other voices totally disagreeing with these approaches. Gonzalo Oviedo, the senior advisor on social policy at the International Union for Conservation of Nature blames human neglect of nature. The modern business-dominated agricultural industry, he argues, promotes the degradation of nature leading to less and worse food. 

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The existing food production systems, which is based on high inputs like fertilisers and is only accessible through market mechanisms, should be changed to systems based on locally available and more environmentally friendly inputs reducing high payouts to middlemen and big agribusinesses.

Further, according to Gonzalo Oviedo, the main culprit is the prevailing model of concentration of land in small groups of big landowners who are dropping food production for local markets and moving to big industrial production of commodities that produce no local benefits and deprive small farmers and landless peasants of access to productive assets like land, water sources and fisheries.


Alyn (Nigeria) said...

It always goes like this - the rich get more and the poor suffer. I'm afraid that once again Africa and poor areas will suffer while America gets richer.

MagisterL said...

This is nature's way of giving humanity a strong warning. It's good that some organisations are saying out aloud that bio-fuels are a disaster for the poorer countries.

Rana Sinha said...

Thanks Alyn and Magisteri for your comments.