the food crisis is here

Submitted by sproutingforth on Mon, 2008-04-14 12:09

Climate change, China’s increasing consumption, the 1st World’s continued gargantuan consumption (and complete disregard for the writing on the wall) as well as the mad dash for biofuels are causing food shortages and rocketing prices worldwide.

[pic© ]Hundreds of millions of people across the world have found rocketing prices of wheat, rice and cooking oil have left them facing the imminent prospect of starvation.

In less than a year, the price of wheat has risen 130 per cent, soya by 87 per cent and rice by 74 per cent. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks in the world, while grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s.

Trevor Manuel this weekend called for South African’s to use all arable land in the country to grow food, and he isn’t over-exaggerating the situation, as much as we’d like to believe that we can continue unaffected... He was in Washington, at the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting during which the World Bank called for immediate action on world food crisis.

Manuel told the Sunday Times on Friday that South Africans should not sit back and wait for the international community to act. “Food prices are very, very bad. It’s not a happy picture,” he said.

Manuel said food prices had broken out of a 150-year pricing band and shot up in relation to other living expenses. “I don’t think you are going to see a reduction in prices for some time, so whatever can be done to encourage people to plant on every piece of arable land would be a benefit to all,” he said. [thetimes]

Not surprisingly, swiftly rising food prices have unleashed serious political unrest in many places. There are food riots in Dhaka, Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal and Cameroon, sometimes involving fatalities, as starving, desperate people have taken to the streets.

And in Vietnam the new crime of rice rustling - in which crops are stripped at night from fields by raiders - has led to the banning of all harvesting machines from roads after sunset and to farmers, armed with shotguns, camping around their fields 24 hours a day. [guardian]

One newspaper article speaks of the food crisis as rivalling the financial crisis and climate change as the most important problem the world has to solve [thestaronline] , which kind of misses the point really, as the food crisis is largely attributable to climate change and mankind’s greed demonstrated by growing food crops for biofuels. [energynews]

The guardian’s article gets to grips with the food crisis by exploring four factors responsible for global unrest:

  • Demand for biofuel: US has granted domestic subsidies to its farmers so that they can grow corn used for ethanol (a biofuel which can be mixed with petrol). The result: 20 million acres, so far, given over to fuel cars that otherwise would have been used to grow wheat!
  • This helps US become less dependent on oil imports & supports its farmers
  • Countries like Argentina, Canada & some European countries have followed suit, with more restrained biofuel policies
  • Climate change is another attributing factor. Weather changes have meant that countries like Australia, once a prime grower of wheat, has found its production ruined by drought – pushing up prices even further
  • China’s growing consumption – its middle classes have swelled in numbers, hence a growing demand in particular for meat, particularly pork. Grain, that would have fed people, now feeds the growing population of pigs headed for countries like China (which has only 7% of the world’s arable land. Even this is shrinking as a result of pollution and water shortages)
  • A final factor is a palm oil crisis. Soya and palm oils are a major source of calories in Asia, but flooding in Malaysia and drought in Indonesia have limited supplies
  • These same oils are also being used as bio-diesel – hence an alarming drop in supplies for the people of the Third World of a basic commodity. [guardian]

What can we do?

  • Buy local – support the local economy; don’t buy imports, even if they’re organic, or anything made or grown in any other country
  • Grow your own – start your own vegetable garden, and plant fruit trees – see our directory for teams of gardeners who can plant and maintain your vegetable garden for you
  • If you can, and there is available municipal land near you, start a community vegetable garden, using volunteers from the neighbourhood. You can apply to lease the land from your local municipality