A recent report came out from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showing that food prices rose to a record high in December 2010 and will likely continue rising higher than ever before.  (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)

The FAO index, which began compiling data in 1990, measures monthly price changes in cereals, oil seeds, dairy, meat, and sugar.  The index rose 32 percent from June to December, rising for all six months in a row.  The December level is at the same level as prices were in 2008, the increase of which helped spark many food riots around the world.

The UN itself warned of dangers of “food riots, geopolitical tension, global inflation, and increasing hunger” due to rising food prices.  Countries on the “at risk” list are those that are poor and produce little of their own food, such as Bangladesh, Morocco, and Nigeria.  Overall, this crisis will hit the poor and maldeveloped nations of the Third World the most, where basic food staples take up a larger share of personal incomes.

The report lists some of the causes of rising food prices:

– Bad harvests of wheat in Russia and Ukraine caused by bad weather, and similar weather effects in Argentina.  More erratic weather patterns due to climate change, itself caused by First World consumption patterns, will further create instability in global food production.

– Rising oil prices, leading to increasing transportation costs for food.

– Increasing use of planted foods for biofuels, especially in the U.S.  More demand for this area leads to rising prices of these crops, especially for those who use them for only food.

– Increasing financial speculation on food crops, with finance capital playing the market to the detriment of people trying to survive.

-There are also notes of increasing water crises, as 30 percent of water used for agriculture comes from unstable sources.

What can be analyzed from this report, if not said outright, is that these activities are part of a phenomenon in which rich nations profit at the expense of poor nations.

The poor nations of the Third World will get hit the most, as usual.  It makes mention of the global economic crisis of 2008.  While its effects were felt worldwide, it was felt unevenly.  While Amerikans and other First Worlders had lost jobs and lost private homes at their worst, in Third World countries people faced starvation.  That year violent protests over food prices happened in Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, Cameroon, and Haiti.  Guatemala experienced a food crisis in 2009 that was so severe the national government declared a national emergency. (6)  In comparison, starvation is not even a factor in rich nations, where even people below the poverty line in those nations are able to obtain food with considerable ease.

What is considerable is the fact that this food crisis has nothing to do with the amount of food available.  There is such an abundance of food that in the U.S. it is estimated that 25 percent is thrown out before it is eaten.(7)  The problem is one of distribution of both food and money.  It is also based on global trade policies that lock nations into dependent development.  Instead of growing food for their own people, they must grow crops for export to richer countries, using the money to then import food.

This coming crisis is nothing new to the exploited nations of the world, to the peoples overwhelmingly residing in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where base survival is an everyday concern.  Over 1 billion people around the world face chronic hunger each year.  This does not have to be.  The world needs a revolutionary system that overturns the present one to bring a society that meets the needs of all people, not the profit of a few in exploiter countries.  The struggle to bring that world about is literally for many people a matter of life and death.


Sources:

1.  “Global Food Prices Hit Record High, Says UN.”  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/8241163/Global-food-prices-hit-record-high-says-UN.html

2.  “The Coming Hunger: Record Food Prices Put World ‘in Danger’, Says UN
Perfect storm of climate and oil puts world into ‘danger territory'”  by Sean O’Grady, Economics Editor.  Independent UK.  January 6, 2011.  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/01/06-2

3.  http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/blogs/healthy-food/food-prices-2011

4.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/soaring-global-food-prices-spark-fears-of-social-unrest/article1859417/

5. “U.N. Data Notes Sharp Rise in World Food Prices.”  New York Times.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/business/global/06food.html?hp

6. http://llco.org/archives/3891

7.  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/from-farm-to-fridge-to-garbage-can/

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Africa, Ecology/Environment, News and Analysis, Political Economy