Rice, corn, corn. Food prices have risen sharply in recent years. It has created social unrest in one developing country after another. More people than before are starving, and in some countries violent riots have broken out.
- How has the strong price increase been possible?
- How can we explain the global food crisis?
- How can we get out of it?
- How can we prevent tens of millions of poor people from dying because of sky-high food prices?
The alarm bells have rung. Globally, there are over 860 million people who are starving and suffering from malnutrition, and the number is increasing. Political leaders around the world have become afraid of social unrest and the political stability of their countries. The food situation and agriculture are now high on the political agenda. This was shown by the UN summit on food security in Rome in June, in which 180 countries participated. It is suggested that world food production must double from now until 2050. And the food situation was a major theme at this year’s G8 meeting in Japan.
2: What happened?
In Vietnam and Thailand, the price of rice increased by 50 percent in two weeks in March 2008. There and in many other developing countries, rice is as important as the potato with us. In some African countries, the price increase was even greater, 300 percent in Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Several countries, including India and Vietnam, introduced export bans on certain raw materials. Other countries considered doing the same. They do not want the free flow of food to create food shortages in them.
In Europe, according to naturegnosis.com, prices soared because there was a shortage of milk and grain. It was the result of an agricultural policy that was to prevent overproduction of precisely these goods, cf. previous years’ smørberg in the EU.
Jacques Diouf, who heads the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in April 2008 that “food prices had risen 45 percent (G1) in the last nine months”. Wheat prices had risen more than 180 percent in the last three years, rice 76 percent in the first four months of 2008.
In several countries, the situation had become tragic and unbearable for many. In Bangladesh, the poorest families normally spend 70 percent of their income on food. It was therefore not difficult to understand that people have revolted in 37 countries around the world, such as in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere – and in Cameroon, where 40 people were killed during the food riots. Nearly 40 percent of the population is malnourished in the countries where people have the lowest incomes and largest food deficits, FAO chief Diouf said.
A global food crisis threatens. It is not as visible as the oil shock, but it could be an economic and humanitarian tsunami in Africa, said EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel.
In any case, hunger has become more visible to us . Before, it was the poor in the countryside who died of hunger and starvation. They died quietly without so many noticing. Out of sight, out of mind, we can almost say. This is no longer the case. Now half of the earth’s population lives in urban areas, according to the UN. When the city population cannot afford to buy food, they do not die quietly without being noticed. Since 2007, we have seen unrest in some thirty countries, and in Haiti the riots earlier this year led to the government having to leave.
By all accounts, hunger will create more political unrest as food and energy prices are likely to continue to rise . If we are to believe the FAO and the OECD, the average price of agricultural products over the next ten years will be well above the prices that have prevailed over the past decade. And it will affect the poor and hungry the most, first and foremost people in urban areas in low-income countries.
3: The causes
So what are the causes of the crisis? Why have we had such a rapid and strong price increase? There are no easy answers. Some explanations are repeated:
- climate change,
- sharply increased oil prices,
- export restrictions,
- geopolitical conflicts,
- lower food production per capita,
- food stocks are at an all-time low,
Other explanations are increased demand for food in China and India, among other places . The World Food Program (WFP) has also highlighted the “demographic development” – that we are becoming more numerous on the planet . The world population is expected to increase by 50 percent by 2050.
Increased production of biofuels has become the last scapegoat. It means that foods that could have gone to human food – including corn – instead go to producing ethanol. Among the first to notice it were the Mexicans. For them, the tortilla, a lefse made from cornmeal, is perhaps the most important food for most people. Like bread for us.