By BINOY KAMPMARK
"I don’t want to alarm anybody, but maybe it’s time for Americans to start stockpiling food. No this is not a drill."
There is a time for food, and a time for ethical appraisals. This was the case even before Bertolt Brecht gave life to that expression in Die Driegroschen Oper. The time for a reasoned, coherent understanding for the growing food crisis is not just overdue, but seemingly past. Robert Zoellick of the World Bank, an organization often dedicated to flouting, rather than achieving its claimed goal of poverty reduction, stated the problem in Davos in January this year. ‘Hunger and malnutrition are the forgotten Millennium Development Goal.’
Global food prices have gone through the roof, terrifying the 3 billion or so people who live off less than $2 a day. This should terrify everybody else. In November, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization reported that food prices had suffered a 18 percent inflation in China, 13 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10 percent or more in Latin America, Russia and India. The devil in the detail is even more distressing: a doubling in the price of wheat, a twenty percent increase in the price of rice, an increase by half in maize prices.
Finger pointing is not always instructive. In this case, it may be. The US and various European countries are moving food crops into the bio-fuel business, itself an environmentally unsound business. This, in addition to encouraging developing countries to not merely ‘liberalize’ their agricultural sectors, but specialize in exporting specific cash crops (cotton, cocoa), has done wonders to precipitate the shortages. Consumption in developing economies, added to the vicissitudes of climate change, water availability, and rising fertilizer costs, are others.
Political stability is being undermined. Food shortages are proving endemic. Food riots are becoming common. Riots have been sparked in Cameroon, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan and Yemen. There have been riots over spiraling grain prices in Mauritania and Senegal. In Mexico City, mass protests were sparked by a price hike in tortillas. In Haiti, biscuits are being made from a mud compound. The Somali capital Mogadishu bore witness to the deaths of five people.punditman says...As the article points out, US Secretary of State Condi Rice, being a free-market fundamentalist fool, blames export caps from India and China. You see, in a radical move beyond her blinkered neo-con comprehension, these countries know that it may actually be important to feed their own populations first in times of crisis. This makes sense for any self-preserving government; a hungry population can become a very angry population, very quickly. She'd be wise to abide by this maxim (although I'm all but convinced that the Bush administration has sent the United States on several simultaneous suicide missions--wrecking the economy being just one of many).