| A Global Food Crisis Is Upon Us
The first global food crisis since World War II
is upon us and already threatening 20 million of the worlds
poorest children. Possible solutions proposed for the crisis range
from ration cards and genetically modified foods to eliminating
pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap supermarkets.
A "silent tsunami" of hunger is sweeping the world's most desperate
nations, said Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, speaking
at a London
summit on the crisis.
The skyrocketing cost of food staples, stoked by rising fuel
prices, unpredictable weather and demand from India
has already sparked sometimes violent protests across the Caribbean,
Africa and Asia.
The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks,
she said. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by 83
percent in three years.
"What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent,"
Sheeran told a news conference.
Hosting talks with Sheeran, lawmakers and experts, British Prime
said the spiraling prices threaten to plunge millions back into
poverty and reverse progress on alleviating misery in the developing
"Tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us and it is
also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations,"
embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price
increases and has launched a major rice-growing project. Indonesia's
government needed to revise its annual budget to respond.
Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon
cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and
caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh.
Former U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said more protests in other developing nations
appear likely. "We are going through a very serious crisis and
we are going to see lots of food strikes and demonstrations,"
Annan told reporters in Geneva.
At streetside restaurants in Lome,
Togo, even the traditional balls of corn meal or corn dough
served with vegetable soup are shrinking. Once as big as a boxer's
fist, the dumplings are now the size of a tennis ball but
cost twice as much.
In Yaounde, Cameroon,
civil servant Samuel Ebwelle, 51, said he fears food prices will
"We are getting to the worst period of our life," he said. "We've
had to reduce the number of meals we take a day from three to
two. Breakfast no longer exists on our menu."
Even if her call for $500 million in emergency funding is met,
food aid programs including work to feed 20 million poor
children will be hit this year, Sheeran said.
has released $200 million in urgent aid. Britain
pledged an immediate $59.7 million on Tuesday.
Even so, school feeding projects in Kenya
have been scaled back and food aid has been cut in half in Tajikistan,
Yet while angry street protesters call for immediate action,
long term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated,
And evolving diets among burgeoning middle classes in India
will help double the demand for food particularly grain
intensive meat and dairy products by 2030, the World
the bank's head, claims as many as 100 million people could be
forced deeper into poverty. U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rising food costs threaten
to cancel strides made toward the goal of cutting world poverty
in half by 2015.
"Now is not too soon to be thinking about the longer-term solutions,"
said Alex Evans, a former adviser to Britain's Environment Secretary
He said world leaders must help increase food production, rethink
their push on biofuels which many blame for pushing up
food prices and consider anew the once taboo topic of growing
genetically modified crops.
But Evans, now a visiting fellow at New
York University's Center on International Cooperation,
said increasing the amount of land that can be farmed in the developing
world will be arduous.
"It's almost like new oil or gas fields; they'll tend to be
the hardest to reach places, that need new roads and new infrastructure
to be viable," he said.
The will to increase food production exists, as does most of
the necessary skills, but there are major obstacles, including
a lack of government investment in agriculture and in Africa
particularly a scarcity of fertilizers, good irrigation
and access to markets.
"Many African farmers are very entrepreneurial, but they simply
aren't connected to markets," said Lawrence Haddad, an economist
and director of Britain's Institute of Development Studies. "They
find there are no chilling plants for milk and no grinding mills
Haddad said the likely impact of food price increases should
have been anticipated. "The fact no one has previously made the
link between agriculture and poverty is quite incredible," he
Just as new land for farming is available in Russia
new genetically modified crops resistant to drought, or which
deliver additional nutrients, could be better targeted to different
regions of the developing world, Evans said. "The solutions are
more nuanced than we previously thought," he added.
Sheeran said developing world governments, particularly in Africa,
will need to dedicate at least 10 percent of future budgets to
agriculture to boost global production.
Some experts predict other countries could follow the example
which has revived the use of ration cards for subsidized wheat.
The production of biofuels also needs to be urgently re-examined,
He acknowledged that Britain
this month introduced targets aimed at producing 5 percent of
transport fuel from biofuels by 2010, but said his government
and others should review their policies.
Production of biofuel leads to the destruction of forests and
takes up land available to grow crops for food.
Brown said the impact of the food crisis won't just be felt
in the developing world, but also in the checkout lane of Western
supermarkets. "It it is not surprising that we see our shopping
bills go up," Brown said.
Many analysts, including Britain's opposition leader David Cameron,
claim that people in the West will need to eat less meat
and consume, or waste, less food in general. Some expect the shift
in attitudes to herald the end of supermarket giveaways and cost-cutting
grocery stores that stack goods to the ceiling and sell in bulk.
Citizens in the West, China and India
must realize that the meat on their plate and biofuels in their
expensive cars carry a cost for those in the developing world,
Sheeran believes many already understand the impact. "Much of
the world is waking up to the fact that food does not spontaneously
appear on grocery
store shelves," she said.