Just came back from New York, where every paper is talking about food shortage, and the scepter of the US having to hoard food. In a country where it is impossible to eat your way through one serving, and where the biggest battle is not against terrorism but against over eating, it is a difficult idea to comprehend. And what did Condolizza Rice mean when she said part of the problem is a change in the eating habits of a more prosperous India and China. Like the world’s problem are increasing because we are eating better or living better ? That is not true in any case, except for a mere 5% of India’s population. But lets get this right. There has ALWAYS been a world food shortage. Since I can remember in any case. People in the US may not have noticed it, and those of us living in India, China, Africa and elsewhere may choose to avert our eyes to what is staring us in the face, but we have always been surrounded by people that live in a constant state of malnutrition and starvation.
So what do we mean when we say that prices are rising and food riots are breaking out ? What we mean is that something has gone wrong in the supply chain. That somewhere people have started to profit more from the supply chain, and somewhere people are hoarding. THAT THE PRICE OF FOOD HAS GONE OUT OF THE RANGE OF MOST POOR PEOPLE. But who controls that price, and if it is market forces, who controls those market forces ? Certainly not the individual farmers.
I believe that there has been too much corporatization of agricultural resources all over the world over the last couple of decades. This is not just US bashing. It has happened with large scale farming everywhere, as food is grown, manufactured, packaged and distributed at the BEST AVAILABLE PRICE. Now in theory while the ‘best available price ‘ may be said to be a good thing for the local farmers in India (say) , where the farmer can invest the money back in the local economy, over 99% of that price does not go back to the farmer. Nor in so many cases does the term ‘local farmer’ apply any more. In large scale agriculture for produce, more and more land is owned by organizations that do not farm the land NOR do they live where the land exists – so nothing goes into the local economy.
So entire swathes of land in South America and elsewhere are cultivated for Cocoa – and then turned into Starbucks product to feed a country alarmingly addicted to caffeine. All of this agricultural land that could otherwise be feeding the local population. The same can now be said about Soya cultivation, or mass Wheat cultivation – which is transported, manufactured, manufactured, marketed, distributed at far more inflated prices back to the people who live where the wheat is grown in the first place ! I have been to a cereal manufacturing facility in the US (with a brand name known to be high in nutrition and ‘close to earth’) – I have refused to eat any cereals since then ! – but that is a different story.
The Global assumption is that suddenly the essential food supply in the last two years has gone down. Nothing like that has happened, or at least not reported. Have people started to suddenly eat more in the last two years ? Enough to cause food riots elsewhere ? Not that I have heard. So the only variable is the manipulation of the supply chain, and the problems must lie there.
Of course as more and more agricultural land is appropriated to feed the insatiable ‘appetite of the greedy’ – like cash crops for making ethanol – we will face severe problems. But the rich will continue to eat while the poor will feed off their crumbs. But then what’s different ???
More serious is the serious effect of Global Warming on the availability of Water for Agriculture. In India 70 % of Agriculture depends upon our ground water. And we are running out of that at an alarming rate. As the glaciers disappear and our rivers turn into alternates between flooding and drought, the world is in for a catastrophic time. And for all our attempts at Water harvesting, nothing will change unless we look at the way food is manufactured and distributed.
And at consumption patterns.
Why are we the only species, that cannot stop consuming ? So that those that can afford it eat too much, and those that cannot, starve.