Time to Face the Growing World Food Crisis

In the Bible, poverty and wealth are not just economic terms. Some of the poorest people on earth are rich in relationships. We have seen them after some catastrophe, gathering the scraps that survive and sharing them with a wide circle of family and neighbours. The rich can be poverty-stricken in their isolation in the sense that their wealth deals so efficiently with what they need, that it can blind them to who they need” Colin Morris, 11 Oct 2010 BBC Thought for the Day

It occurs to me that because the world is interconnected that we in the rich part of the world actually need to care about the well-being of the poor. At a community level it has often been pointed out that statistics show communities where there is the greatest disparity between the rich and the poor have the most social tensions eg. the most crime, the greatest security problems, the greatest family breakdown etc. It is hard to escape the notion that even at the international level, neighbouring countries with the biggest disparities of wealth and unequal distribution of resources make the most uncomfortable of neighbours. For example the poor central American countries are difficult neighbours for the US, whereas Canada is a pleasant neighbour, Israel perceived as holding the best land and lion’s share of resources has uncomfortable relations with the Palestinians who have a demonstrably worse standard of living….and so on.

On June 1 Oxfam released its analysis of the world food shortage, and it is a report which has some sobering implications for the wealthy nations. In a nutshell it points out that the escalation of international food prices is at least partly a consequence of inappropriate policy on the part of the wealthy. As property in particular and the share market in general became increasingly uncertain, the Multinational banks, have been encouraging their clients to invest in food commodities as hedge funds. By betting on the inevitable food price rises as staple foods like maize, rice, wheat and soy bean came under pressure, the prices of these commodities have risen in accordance with standard economic models. As the Asian economies began to stir, pressure on available fuel supply meant that fuel companies started competing for arable land to grow plants for synthetic fuels. According to the Oxfam figures 15% of the world arable land has gone into this use, driving food prices still higher.

As Oxfam points out: “The 2008 spike in food prices pushed some 100 million people into poverty. Price rises so far in 2011 have done the same to 44 million more. These statistics mask millions of individual stories of suffering and heartbreak as families struggle to cope with deepening poverty.

And : “Paralysis is imposed upon us by a powerful minority of vested interests that profit from the status quo. Self-serving elites who amass wealth at the expense of impoverished rural populations. Bloated bio-fuel lobbies, hooked on subsidies that divert food from mouths to cars. Dirty industries that block action on emissions. Shipping companies that overcharge for freighting emergency food aid, robbing both taxpayers and the very people for whom the aid is intended. Enormous agri-business companies hidden from public view that function as global oligopolies, governing value chains, ruling markets, accountable to no one.”

“It is estimated that three agribusiness firms – Cargill, Bunge and ADM – control nearly 90% of grain trading between them.
Only 40 cents of every US taxpayer dollar spent on food aid actually goes to buying food. Procuring freighting of US food aid on the open market could help feed an additional 3.2 million people in emergencies.
Between 1983 and 2006, the share of agriculture in aid fell from 20.4% to 3.7%. During this time rich country governments’ support to their own agricultural sectors spiralled to over $250bn a year – 79 times
their agricultural aid.”

If you haven’t read the report you will find it at http://www.oxfam.org/grow
You may not like Oxfam’s suggested remedies but in view of the rapidly worsening situation it should be becoming evident that sitting on one’s hands and hoping the problem will go away is not the answer. The neo-con Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested that this is the sort of problem that is best addressed by prayer. In view of the way so called Christian leaders have turned a blind eye to policies which have not been in the best interests of the poor, I am uncomfortable with his answer. At the very least I would add the rider – don’t pray unless you are intending to take action as a consequence.

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