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Posts Tagged ‘Honduras

A Jekyll and Hyde food price index

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FAO's usual winsome twosome, the food price index and food commodity price index charts.

FAO’s usual winsome twosome, the food price index and food commodity price index charts.

Why does the perversity of international food price monitoring continue when all evidence tells us food price inflation is raging just as it was in 2007-08? Here is an example of how persistent this perversity is.

Maize in Malawi at 280%, maize in Tanzania at 110%, maize in Mozambique at 60%, maize in Zambia at 50%. Wheat in Tajikistan and in Russia at 55%, wheat in Kyrgystan and Afghanistan at 40%, rice in Myanmar at 35%. Maize in Haiti at 55%, maize in Honduras at 40%, wheat and rice in Brazil at 30%, maize in Nicaragua at 30%, rice in Bolivia at 25%.

Those are the annual increases in the prices of these cereals in the countries named. The estimates come from the charts found in the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May (which has prices for up to April). The charts however are at the end of the Monitor. On the first page, the Monitor offers very short summaries. Like this one:

“In Eastern Africa, maize prices mostly strengthened for the second consecutive month following seasonable patterns. However, prices stabilized or started to decline in some countries where new harvests are about to start.” Is that what is being described with a 110% increase in Tanzania?

Or this one:

“In Asia, domestic prices of rice and wheat generally weakened with the arrival of the 2013 early season rice and winter wheat harvests.” Is that what is being described with a 35% increase in Myanmar?

Or even this one:

What FAO's own charts tell us about rising food prices for staples worldwide. These are from the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May.

What FAO’s own charts tell us about rising food prices for staples worldwide. These are from the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May.

“In Central America, maize prices strengthened in April with the onset of the lean season and in some countries were at high levels. Bean prices remained low, pressured by abundant supplies from bumper crops in the 2012-13 cropping season.” Is that what is being described with a 40% increase in Honduras?

Who are these summaries really for and why does FAO persist in releasing to the public these misleading pictures of food prices (when it means export prices), and especially when its own price monitoring tools tell us very clearly that many many people are struggling under crushing inflation in the prices of food staples?

To take the food price opera further, this is what the FAO Food Price Indexwhich is one of the world’s primary indices and referred to thousands of times a day by planners, the food industry, policy-makers, bankers (always bankers), commodity traders, foreign exchange brokers, bond market artists and rogues, warehousing tycoons, the purveyors of genetically modified seed, the cigar-smoking CEOs of grain trading companies, and the smarmy corrupt political cronies of all of the above – says about cereals:

“The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 234.6 points in April, down 10 points (4.1%) from March, but nearly 11 points (4.9%) above the corresponding period last year. Most of the decline in April was triggered by weaker maize prices on expectation of higher closing stocks and favourable 2013 crop prospects. Wheat prices changed little, as the downward pressure stemming from expectation of larger inventories was offset by the upward pressure resulting from concern over the poor growing conditions and spring crop planting delays in the United States. Rice prices were marginally down …”

Read that again, 4.9% above the corresponding period last year. The smallest of the annual percentage increases in the second paragraph of this posting is five times as much as 4.9% which is why we must ask FAO, again and again, who the beneficiaries of this large international effort to collect and distribute food prices really are.

Not the populations of Mzuzu, Kampala and Milange or Jalalabad, Yangon and Sughd, or Tegucigalpa, Sao Paulo and Jacmel, all of whom must find their own means of measuring the burdens of food price increases, and who have in the last year, cut down on health care and perhaps even the education of their children, only to not go hungry too often, too painfully.


How the World Bank is leveraging the new food crisis

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Soon after the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS) meeetings, the World Bank has said that it is “reactivating” its Food Fund (called the Global Food Crisis Response Program) “to run through June 2011”. What does this mean? In short it means that the World Bank is leveraging the food supply and food price rises for staple cereals of 2010 in much the same way it did in 2008, during the earlier food crisis.

The Global Food Crisis Response Program list

“In response to the severity of the food crisis and the need for prompt action, the World Bank Group set up the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) in May 2008 to provide immediate relief to countries hard hit by food high prices” is how the Bank puts it. There’s a lot of cross-referencing in order to legitimise its actions, such as “The Bank response has been articulated in coordination with the United Nations’ High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on food security. Through its response, the Bank is supporting the implementation of the joint Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA)”.

According to the Bank, the GFRP has approved US$1,238.2 million in 35 countries as of 09 September 2010. The Bank says that “grant funding has also been made available through several external-funded trust funds in support of the full range of interventions available under the GFRP”. There’s more cross-referncing to make it all sound happily multi-national: a “Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) has received contributions” of AUD 50 million from the Australian government, €80 million from the government of Spain, 3 billion Korean Won from the Republic of Korea, CAD 30 million from the government of Canada, and $0.15 million from International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The point is, how are governments of small countriess with populations vulnerable to the price volatility of global food market being pressurised by the Bank? Take the case of Honduras, one of the 35 countries. The Bank calls it “Honduras – Food Prices Crisis Supplemental Financing to the First Programmatic Financial Sector Development Policy Credit”. US$10 million in “development assistance” for “budget support”.

From the project document for this assistance, here is the objective: “2. Proposed objective(s). The proposed SDR [XXX] million (US$10 million equivalent) operation would support the Government’s commitment to maintain macroeconomic stability and persevere in its Financial Sector DPC’s (development policy credit) development objectives and allow the government to respond to the food price crisis. As such, the supplement will be processed under GFRP procedures.”

World Food Day 2010

16 October is World Food Day 2010

We’re seeing two objectives here: (1) macroeconomic stability and (2) response to food price crisis. Nowhere in the project documentation (there’s only one document publicly available) is there an explanation of why the World Bank thinks the macroeconomic stability of Honduras is threatened by the rise in prices of food staples, and nowhere is there mention of the Honduran government’s own response.

A new objective appears soon after: “Honduras is committed to a reform program aimed at strengthening the financial sector so as to ensure that it contributes to long-term growth and poverty reduction. The authorities have expressed their intention to continue the implementation of the financial sector reform program and more specifically their intention to strengthen supervisory activities, keeping updated the database of related parties, and further strengthening banking resolution including through fully capitalizing the recently created bank capitalization fund.”

This has to do with rising food prices? Any government can make any number of commitments to ‘growth’ and ‘poverty reduction’, but what’s the financial sector reform doing in a Global Food Crisis Response Program? The Bank doesn’t say.

The Honduras project document continues in its two track logic: “This commitment is particularly important because of the new challenges that the food crisis is creating for the financial sector, as higher food prices negatively affect the portfolio of consumer loans and the country’s macroeconomic stability.” If there is a connection between consumer loans being affected by rising food prices (repayments?) how much over how long from how many?) there’s no explanation) and ‘macroeconomic stability’ (which has to do with a variety of other factors), the Bank has not bothered to explain them.

The Bank then says: “In particular, strong supervisory activities and a well capitalized bank capitalization fund are crucial stabilizing factors for the financial system, because they signal to the market that the authorities would be able to respond to banks in difficulties and avoid a systemic crisis.” Here the Bank trots out the typical systemic crisis bogey, implying that without its intervention, in the name of Food Crisis Response, Honduras would be in serious trouble. How easily one crisis of external making get translated into another of deliberate design.