Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Meagre morsels: the food crisis of 2012

with 5 comments

Children enjoy their lunch break at Ngoma School, Sikaneka village, Maamba district, Zambia. February 2007. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015 aim to improve primary education, reduce child mortality, promote gender equality and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Photo: IRIN / Manoocher Deghati

1. The Dawn of Pakistan has reported that “a global race for grain trading power is putting more of the world’s vital cereals in the hands of fewer companies, with a string of recent acquisitions raising fears that consumers will pay even more for their food, while farmers are squeezed”. The report said that Archer Daniels Midland last week bid for Australia’s last independent grain handler GrainCorp, the latest in a series of moves by grain trading heavyweights to grab a larger slice of a booming market as developing economies seek food security.

2. Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz acutely observed that the invention of corn by the Mexicans is only comparable to the invention of fire by the early humans, according to this report from Voxxi. “From the inedible grass of the teocintle or teosinte, ancient Mexicans created modern corn, which was spread across Mesoamerica and eventually around the world.” The report said that the 60 or so breeds and the thousands of different varieties native to Mexico act as a genetic reservoir and a crucially important strategic good in terms of the global food supply and economy.

3. “Hunger and revolutions have always gone hand-in-hand, of course — the latter is what happens when you let them eat cake but the people have no bread,” explained this blog on Reuters. But at which point do prices pass the point of no return? Their research has found that food riots are most likely to occur when the FAO Food Price Index rises above 210. “Recognising the dangers of food speculation, six European banks – including Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest – this summer removed agricultural products from their commodity funds altogether. Wall Street, however, has not been so accommodating.”

4. Food security levels declined in 98 out of 105 countries between June and September because of rising food prices, according to updated data from the Economist Intelligence Unit and reported by Bloomberg Businessweek. The score for affordability of food dropped to 50.5 on a scale of 100 from 53.2 previously, an EIU researcher told the business magazine. Hungary, Brazil, Argentina and Russia had the biggest drops in affordability of food on a combination of economic weakness and inflation, the unit wrote. Global food prices have advanced 7.7 percent from June, according to the EIU. Among the most undernourished countries, the biggest drops in food affordability were recorded in South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Botswana, according to the report.

Food scarcity during Ramadan exacerbated by floods threatens thousands of poor people in Pakistan. Photo: IRIN / Abdul Majeed Goraya

5. The countries with the highest burden of under-nutrition, responsible for as many as 2.6 million child deaths a year, are the most exposed to food price spikes, reported The Guardian. They tend to be net importers of food, and have citizens who spend 30-60% of their income on food. When prices go up, poor people take their children out of school and prioritise foods that provide energy over nutrition. A relatively short spike can have long-term effects on the development and potential of children.

6. In August 2012, three of the eight “livelihood zones” in Burundi – around 200,000 people – were found to be at a “crisis” level of food security, or Phase 3 in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale, said this All Africa report. This was variously due to recurrent drought, plant disease, poverty, lack of drinking water and land scarcity. Most of the rest of the country is in Phase 2 – also classified as “stressed” – with a risk of falling into Phase 3 “at the slightest shock”, such as flooding or hailstorms, according to Isaac Nzitunga of the Ministry of Agriculture. More than 60 percent of the population in the tiny, densely populated central African state, one still recovering from a 1993-2005 civil war which killed some 300,000 people and uprooted more than a million others, is at risk of food insecurity. Some 58 percent of children are chronically malnourished, which means their physical and intellectual development is seriously threatened.

5 Responses

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  1. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa were the hardest hit by the food and financial crises. In fact,hunger may have spiked in 2009, one of the many dire consequences of the global food and financial crises.
    Food security has become a significant issue in Malawi recently.
    Food price spikes are a matter of life and death to many people in developing countries, who spend as much as 75% of their income on food. The FAO estimates that the 2007/08 food price spike contributed to an 8% rise in the number of undernourished people in Africa. Price rises in the second half of 2010 caused further turmoil, contributing to an increase in the estimated number of hungry people globally to 925 million.

    Reading this post it appears that it is unlikely that we will reach the the first MGD goal of halving ( between 1990 and 2015,) the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

    What is most disgusting is that there is no shortage of food in the world today.The problem is of abundance and not scarcity .

    viva kermani (@vivakermani)

    November 6, 2012 at 16:29

    • True Viva. How much of that cost of food, the rise in that cost, is because of what the economists and planners call ‘value addition’, when that ‘addition’ is to companies’ revenues and government’s taxes, is what I’d really like to know. Biofuel and agri commodities trading are factors, no doubt, but one of the less visible factors is the way primary crop produce is being transformed by the food processing and packaged foods industries, which in many of these countries is growing at a rate exceeding the ‘growth rate’ of agricultural produce (which ought to simply mean the cost at which cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruit, milk and fish are procured).

      makanaka

      November 6, 2012 at 20:15

      • Not sure if you saw this ,but the Hindu carried a full page ad on this new institute NIFTEM – and here is the news excerpt from one of today s newspaper – I wonder what these “path breaking technologies” might be – I think this is the kind of stuff you have been warning about.

        New Delhi: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar will inaugurate on Wednesday the National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM), which will provide education in food technology and management, at Kundali in Haryana.

        Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and a number of Union and State Ministers will be present at the inaugural function, an official release said.

        NIFTEM, which has been conferred deemed university status, will award B-Tech (Food Technology and Management), M Tech and PHD in the area of food technology and management, it said.

        The institute has focus areas like dairying, cereal-based products, animal protein, beverages, confectionery and fruit and vegetable based foods. It will also concentrate on other sectors like management, packaging, food standard and testing, the statement added.

        It will collaborate with world’s best institutions to promote development of path-breaking technologies, which are globally relevant, it added.

        viva kermani (@vivakermani)

        November 7, 2012 at 19:15

      • Thanks Viva for pointing out this important new problem. I find it very troubling that NIFTEM describes its activity as “to cater to the needs of various stakeholders, including exporters, entrepreneurs and policy makers”. Moreover it says it will “blend various facets of the food industry from production to retail, to ensure that all those involved in these activities reap the maximum possible benefits”. Benefits are profit and high prices, I expect. Also, NIFTEM “envisages being the focal point for catalyzing the growth of the food processing industries” – indeed, but at what cost to the eating and dietary habits of urban Indians?

        makanaka

        November 11, 2012 at 08:43

  2. As Coal Boosts Mozambique, the Rural Poor Are Left Behind

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/world/africa/as-coal-boosts-mozambique-the-rural-poor-are-left-behind.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121111

    It s the same problem everywhere and we will see more and more of this, more and more inequality – Coal giants like Rio Tinto exploiting Mozambique natural resource with no benefit to local communities – likewise in Gabon and Angola – the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has even increased as growth has spiked.

    viva kermani (@vivakermani)

    November 11, 2012 at 20:05


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