Sunday, April 20, 2008

Economist Hunger issue: "The Silent Tsunami"

The current issue of the Economist takes a look at global hunger with five articles concerning the effect of rising food prices around the world. They found this quote from Josette Sheeran from the World Food Programme so compelling, they used it twice: "For the middle classes, it means cutting out medical care. For those on $2 a day, it means cutting out meat and taking the children out of school. For those on $1 a day, it means cutting out meat and vegetables and eating only cereals. And for those on 50 cents a day, it means total disaster."

Startling oh-my-God-type statistics abound in this issue, like the price of wheat and rice. Last year, wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16%. Since January, rice prices have soared 141%. WHAT!!???!!! Also, there is the forecast that if "on a conservative estimate the cost of their food rises 20%, 100 million people could be forced back to this level[less than $1/day]....In some countries, that would undo all the gains in poverty reduction they have made during the past decade of growth." The issue looks at some of the reasons for this increase and the culprits are the usual suspects. Farm subsidies in wealthy countries (yes, that would be us Americans and our ridiculous Farm Bill), changes in demand as China and India consume more grain and meat (meat that takes a lot of grain to produce), and voracious appetites of western biofuel programs (yep, that would be us Americans and our crazy ethanol, too).

The article called "The New Face of Hunger" offers some insight into possible solutions like increased production of food. It speaks favorably of the possibilities of a supply response coming from the world's 450 million small farm holders in developing countries and gives 3 reasons why this would be desirable: "First, it would reduce poverty: 3/4 of those making do on $1 a day live in the countryside and depend on the health of the smallholder farming. Next, it might help the environment: those smallholders manage a disproportionate share of the world's water and vegetation cover, so raising their productivity on existing land would be environmentally friendlier than cutting down the rainforest. And it should be efficient: in terms of returns on investment, it would be easier to boost grain yields in Africa from 2 tonnes per hectare to four than it would be to raise yields in Europe from eight tonnes to ten. The opportunities are greater and the law of diminishing returns has not set in."

Overall, it is a really informative issue on these topics. Go check it out!

No comments: