Food-free days now part of life for some
October 13th 2012
World grain prices have risen so high that families in poorer countries are being forced to schedule ‘food-free days’ each week, according to one of the leading experts on global agriculture. The extreme rationing is an ‘an unprecedented manifestation of food stress,’ according to Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, and the most respected environmental observer of food and agricultural trends. While regional food shortages are far from uncommon, the sheer number of people in the developing world who can no longer afford to eat every day has appalled humanitarian workers. ‘We have not seen this before, where a family systematically schedules days where they do not eat, when they know they can’t buy enough every day so they decide at the beginning of the week, this week we won’t eat on Wednesday or we won’t eat on Saturday,’ Mr Brown said yesterday [10 October]. Quoting figures from a report commissioned by Save the Children, he said that foodless days were now a part of life for up to 24 per cent of families in India, 27 per cent in Nigeria, and 14 per cent in Peru. The development was part of a long-term shift, he said, from a world food economy dominated by surpluses, to one dominated by scarcity.
Yesterday it was revealed that Britain’s own 2012 wheat harvest is down by nearly 15 per cent after the wettest summer for a century, with analysts warning the shortage will push domestic food prices up still further, not least because the cost of grain feed largely determines the price of poultry and livestock such as pigs. Yet Britain’s situation is only part of a global process which is seeing grain prices rise to the highest level on record, causing enormous difficulties for poorer people in developing countries, where food typically accounts for 50-70 per cent of family spending, compared to an average of around ten per cent in the West. The biggest driver of recent increases has been the catastrophic drought in the US this summer, which cut the harvest of corn (what we in Britain call maize) by 13 per cent to 272m tonnes, from 314m tonnes in 2011; and the shortage is combined with the increase in demand for corn to make biofuels – as of this year, more corn now goes into ethanol production in America than goes into animal feed. The 2012 global grain harvest in total is expected to be 2,236m tonnes, compared with 2,309m tonnes in 2011, a drop of about three per cent, but this is about four per cent in per capita terms, as 80m people per year are being added to the world population. As a result, corn prices hit eight dollars a bushel in August, the highest level ever recorded.
Read the full article: The Independent
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