The rise in food prices is a problem for most of us. In the world’s poorest countries, it is often a matter of life and death.
Food prices around the world are reaching crisis levels, jeopardizing the fight against global poverty. The 83 percent rise in global food prices over the past three years has threatened to reverse many of the hard fought gains that have been made in the fight to end poverty around the world.
A big impact
As more people slip into extreme poverty, the global community must increase our efforts to fight hunger and malnutrition.
Why and how big
Food prices have skyrocketed. The price of wheat is up an astounding 181 percent in the last three years. In the last year alone, wheat is up 120 percent. This contributes to doubling the cost for a loaf of bread in many areas of the globe. In many countries such as Yemen, bread can cost a quarter of a poor family’s income.
Other commodities such as corn, rice and soy have risen dramatically as well. Rice is up 75 percent in just two months in some markets. In Bangladesh, rice can require half of a poor family's income.
John Powell, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Program, stated that, “skyrocketing food prices threatened to push another 100 million already vulnerable people below the poverty line."
Political instability and riots
In Haiti, the government dissolved when senators dismissed Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis after a series of food related riots. These riots were caused by a 50% increase in staple foods such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk.
The World Bank estimates that up to 33 countries could face civil unrest resulting from the rise in global food prices.
Effects on emergency aid
There is much that can and needs to be done. The most effective response must come from the United States government, the world's single biggest provider of humanitarian aid.
Right now all food aid is in the form of surplus food crops purchased inside the United States and then required to be shipped on US vessels. These practices are incredibly costly, especially in light of rising energy costs and concerns for carbon emissions.
Shipping corn from the USA to other continents can cost as much as $300 a ton when local farmers are trying to sell their corn for as little as $30 a ton. Buying food aid locally greatly increases aid's efficiency and the effectiveness.
The United States is far more focused on emergency relief than development. Of the total $1.2 billion in food aid to Africa in 2007, only $167 million was allocated to development projects compared to $1 billion for emergency food aid. More aid must go to development to ensure that production increases will offset the effects of rising food prices.
As a specific example in 2008, the USA
will give Ethiopia more than $460 million for food, $350 million for
HIV/AIDS treatment and only $7 million for agricultural development.
Respond to the Global Food Crisis - contact your local representative
We also need to move beyond these preventable emergencies with a comprehensive plan for ending extreme poverty.
See also: Rising Cost of Food Affects Americans
by By Adam Goldberg, Hearts & Minds volunteer, edited by Bill