Far from resolved: The global food crisis

Between January 2002 and June 2008 there was a hundred and thirty percent increase in globally traded food prices. Globally the price rise and its

subsequent effect on real income plunged an additional 100 million people into poverty and resulted in food riots in many nations.

The World Bank estimating that it could have potentially led to social unrest

in as many as thirty countries. The world food program has called it the biggest challenge it has faced in its 45-year history, but the global food crisis is not something new. It is a silent tsunami that has been killing millions for years.

The difference is that in 2008 the situation finally got so bad that it could no longer continue to be ignored and the world woke up to an ‘emergency’. Today, world food prices are

again receding but the problem is far from resolved. We have to take urgent action to address the systemic failures that are at the problem’s roots instead of waiting for the next ‘emergency’ to force us into further band-aid measures.

The crisis is attributed to the rise of the middle class in China, India and other emerging countries leading to an increase in the demand for meat proteins. The large amounts of grain required to produce meat thus increases the stress on the agricultural output.

The rise in the use of bio-fuels as a solution to climate change and as a means of gaining energy security also is responsible. A World Bank study of June 2008 says this single factor is responsible for at least 75 % of the price rise. Developed nations have been aggressively pursuing ethanol and other bio-fuels even though studies have shown that these fuels have a negative impact on GHG emissions .

Climate change and environmental degradation

has adversely affected

agricultural production both directly through interference in the productivity of many species that

form the staple diet as well as the changes in the physical environment and a perceptible increase in the number and frequency of natural disasters.

Food subsidies in developed nations make the products of small farmers in poor countries uncompetitive when they face the subsidized products in the world market. This imbalance has led many farmers to migrate to cities and others to remain at subsistence levels hurting productivity in the developing world.

To address the problem, countries with the necessary means must increase their contributions to the WFP to fill the shortfalls it has announced. This will send a strong message that governments are acting to deal with the situation urgently. World aid to developing nations has been falling drastically in the last few years. It fell 8.4% in 2007 compared to 2006 figures and this number is only set to fall over the next few years as the world reels under the pressure of the financial crisis. We have a financial crisis at hand today but that, as secretary general Ban Ki Moon put it, is ‘no excuse for inaction’.

Food Price Impact Assessments must be carried

out in all countries that

are diverting food grains

for fuel production to gauge the effect of such diversions. Further research and development must be carried

out in second generation bio-fuels and bio-fuels

that do not require food grain diversion.

Many developing countries in response to the food crisis implemented restrictions on their food exports including rice. China had restrained fertilizer exports and many developed nations were quick to point accusatory fingers at countries that had introduced such measures but failed to realize that these were short-term emergency measures implemented to protect the poor who would be out priced in the market.

In Nepal, the World Food Programme (WFP) is now feeding around 75% of Mugu district’s 44,000 residents through a food-for-work scheme. While climate change affects the weather patterns and drives our farmers into deeper depths of hunger and despair 50% of the world’s traded food grains are still used as livestock feed and for bio-fuels. Nepalis are dying because their hands have been out-competed by machines that run on subsidies. Our farmers are praying for the rains that have been affected by climate change while the west indulges in pseudo-environmentalism filling its gas tanks with food while continuing its unsustainable lifestyles.

Our poor are being crushed under their carbon footprint. ‘They’, ‘the

west’ may sound like gross generalizations but while ‘they’ may not be solely to blame they are largely to blame and the magnitude

of their fault in this crisis

is sickening.

It has been estimated

that 10000 children die everyday as a direct result of malnutrition. In effective action millions will find hope of a better future, in inaction they will find death and gloom. The choice unfortunately falls upon a group of global leaders who have shown repeatedly that they don’t have the political will to make the changes necessary.

And in Nepal, after the dust has settled from the struggle for ministerial berths which seems vaguely likely, the government is going to have the stability to act. The less aid the better.