I hate to bring the bad news about "The Perfect Storm", the metaphor used to describe the global food crisis. But unless if we globally recognize we have a massive problem on our hands, we won't do anything about it.
Still not convinced? Well, here are the recent symptoms of The Global Impact of Food Price Inflation:
- United States: The last time America's grain silos were so empty was in the early seventies, when the Soviet Union bought much of the harvest. Washington is telling the World Food Programme it is facing a 40% increase in food commodity prices compared with last year, and higher fuel bills to transport it, so the US, the biggest single food aid contributor, will radically cut the amount it gives away.
- Morocco: 34 people jailed this month for taking part in riots over food prices.
- Egypt: The world's largest importer of wheat has been hard hit by the global price rises, and most of the increase will be absorbed in increased subsidies. The government has also had to relax the rules on who is eligible for food aid, adding an extra 10.5 million people.
- Eritrea: It could be one of the states hardest hit in Africa because of its reliance on imports. The price rises will hit urban populations not previously thought vulnerable to a lack of food.
- Zimbabwe: With annual inflation of 100,000% and unemployment at 80%, price increases on staples can only worsen the severe food shortages.
- Yemen: Prices of bread and other staples have nearly doubled in the past four months, sparking riots in which at least a dozen people were killed.
- Russia: The government struck a deal with producers last year to freeze the price of milk, eggs, vegetable oil, bread and kefir (a fermented milk drink). The freeze was due to last until the end of January but was extended for another three months.
- Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai has asked the WFP to feed an extra 2.5 million people, who are now in danger of malnutrition as a result of a harsh winter and the effect of high world prices in a country that is heavily dependent on imports.
- Pakistan: President Pervez Musharraf announced this month that Pakistan would be going back to ration cards for the first time since the 1980s, after the sharp increase in the price of staples. These will help the poor (nearly half the population) buy subsidised flour, wheat, sugar, pulses and cooking fat from state-owned outlets.
- India: The government will spend 250bn rupees on food security. India is the world's second biggest wheat producer but bought 5.5m tonnes in 2006, and 1.8m tonnes last year, driving up world prices. It has banned the export of all forms of rice other than luxury basmati.
- China: Unusually severe blizzards have dramatically cut agricultural production and sent prices for food staples soaring. The overall food inflation rate is 18.2%. The cost of pork has increased by more than half. The cost of food was rising fast even before the bad weather moved in, as an increasingly prosperous population began to demand as staples agricultural products previously seen as luxuries. The government has increased taxes and imposed quotas on food exports, while removing duties on food imports.
- Thailand: The government is planning to freeze prices of rice, cooking oil and noodles.
- Malaysia and the Philippines: Malaysia is planning strategic stockpiles of the country's staples. Meanwhile the Philippines has made an unusual plea to Vietnam to guarantee its rice supplies. Imports were previously left to the global market.
- Indonesia: Food price rises have triggered protests and the government has had to increase its food subsidies by over a third to contain public anger.
- Do you want more?
Source: "Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits", a must-read article in the Guardian.
Pictures courtesy WFP (Clive Shirley,Ramine Rafirasme and Tom Hakell)