Thursday, April 24, 2008

the food crisis

the World Food Programme's briefing today for media on the food crisis was rather sobering. Just skimming through the press materials... World Bank says 100 million could be pushed deeper into poverty: the price of rice has gone up 87% in five weeks: over two dozen countries facing food riots; 40 countries have banned exports of food to placate their domestic constituencies: WFP launched a flash appeal for $500 million a few weeks back, not for anything new, but just to keep doing what they are doing, because prices have jumped so dramatically. Just in the past few weeks since that happened, they've revised that figure upward to $750 million, just due to price increases in March.

Nor is hating on the scam that is biofuels going to be the cure-all that many say it is. Yes it will help, and yes, corn ethanol does nothing except yield a huge windfall for Archer Daniels Midland, but it's only one of a number of interrelated factors relating to food costs. For starters, for several years consumption has outpaced production, so global food stocks are at their lowest levels in 30 years. Second, rising incomes in China and India means rising meat consumption which means rising calories per capita to feed people. Since it takes 7 to 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork or beef, and since there are several hundred million people coming out of poverty in China and India as we speak, this is a big deal. Third, oil prices are up, which means it costs more to get fertilizer and more to transport food. In fact, poor African farmers are planting LESS this year, despite skyrocketing food prices, because they can't afford the fertilizer inputs they need. On top of this, you've got increased natural disasters, droughts, desertification, and the like.

To top it off, WFP now needs $4.3 billion just to make ends meet for its programs this year, and that's not including future emergencies. So far, they have about 1/4 of that.

Seems pretty serious...

No comments: