Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is There a World Food Crisis?

by Richard Crews
The scene is a small, dirty shack, about eight-feet square, made from scraps of corrugated metal, wood, and plastic scavenged from the nearby dump. There are three children who sit in the dark squalor. One is a girl about 12, the other two are a boy and a girl about 4 or 5. The older girl spoons a small amount of something that looks like a slurry of dark beans and rice into two tin pans held by the younger children. There isn't much of it. Each small child has a wooden spoon, and they dig in hungrily.

Then the little boy looks around at his older sister sitting quietly in the corner watching. He seems cheerful--after all, he is hungry and he is eating. And he sounds more curious than concerned when he asks, "Where's yours?"

Throughout the world a billion people are hungry right now. Fifty thousand die of starvation each day--mostly children. And the ones who live and grow up on the brink of starvation have more than their childhoods stolen from them. They lose not just their childhood teachings and activities, but their growth and development--both physical and mental--are stifled as well. Even if they live, they are small of stature, slow of wit, and without the emotional and social skills needed to pursue full lives: their future is stolen from them.

A billion people are hungry right now, and the irony of this savage tragedy is that, worldwide, there is enough food to go around. In the U.S. (and other post-industrialized countries), the typical family is overweight (perhaps even participating in the so-called "obesity epidemic"). In addition, they throw away each year more food than they consume--they buy more than they need; much of it goes stale and rotten and after a couple of weeks in the refrigerator it is thrown into the garbage or compost. Overall, about 60% of the food they purchase is discarded.

Moreover, many participants in the food chain from farmers and truckers to processors, commodity brokers, and grocers earn a good living slicing off a piece of the world food pie as it goes by them.

Last year food prices skyrocketed around the world. This was because vast crops were lost to storms and floods and fires (and perhaps because of price speculating and tariff interventions as well). The price of corn doubled, the price of wheat tripled--the prices of all food commodities were up signficantly. Because of this, millions of people were plunged into poverty and starvation.

Because of this, the 12-year-old girl in that squalid shack can barely put food in the pans of her younger brother and sister. Because of this, she has none for herself.