Sunday, May 04, 2008

Global Food Crisis - the urban animal’s work of art

Global food crisis, food scarcity – page after page, every paper, every channel, every meeting in the cabinet moots about this eerie subject. Ministers, economists, chiefs of the countries are yet to get relieved from this shock. On one hand there are articles of condemnation on the poor countries’ plight and on the other richer countries asserting themselves that their citizens would not starve.

The World Food Program (WFP) has recently identified at least 30 “high risk” countries from around the globe and 21 among them are in Africa. A 100 million people are now urgently at risk of not having enough food to eat – a report from the United Nations shudders. With one child dying every five seconds from hunger-related causes, the time to act is now," Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain stresses in a meeting. The WFP has characterized this as the ‘Silent Tsunami’ warning that may lead to a potential catastrophe.

Why? When? How did this start? Did the population surge suddenly? Did the monsoons fail? Did the climate change and global warming burn down all the crops? Or did we all just start to munch more? None of the above!

We have foolishly inflated our own currency. Food has become increasingly costlier. Wheat prices have increased by 200%. Grains are available in the market but just that nobody can buy it. This season Cambodian farmers witnessed a harvest which they claim is the best in memory; but this has not shielded them from the global food scarcity. Why? Because food is becoming less and less affordable to those who grew it! Millions more of the world's most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortage looms and crop prices spiral ever upwards.

Short of cash, the World Food Program (WFP), the UN agency which feeds the world’s poorest people, can no longer supply 4,50,000 Cambodian children with its breakfast. WFP estimates it needs an additional $500 million to keep feeding the 73 million people in Africa, Asia and Central America. The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood that prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

Food, not for people, but for cars!
Bio fuel is another culprit. The global drive for a new green fuel to power cars, lorries and planes is worsening world food shortages and threatening to make billions go hungry. Biofuels, enthusiastically backed by the US, UK and other European governments, have been
sold as the solution to global warming. Converting large amounts of land to crops for biofuels is reducing food production just when the world needs to increase it.

When the crisis retaliates
For the first time in history, say experts, the impact is spreading from the developing to the developed world. Wal-Mart’s cash and carry division, Sam’s Club, announced it would sell a maximum of four bags of rice a person to prevent its supplies from running short. This is the face of new hunger. Experts lament that even those better off countries which erstwhile were never under their scanner are presently at the risk of this scarcity.

With every bite of food we consume, we should remember that we all have played a part in this inflation. Our government / company pays us various allowances which grow up each year. We have lived with this inflation without knowing it. But who gives them to our farmers? They live as isolated servants who ensure that our bellies are always full while putting theirs on starvation. These poorest of the poor suffer silently, too weak for activism or too busy raising the next generation of hungry. As responsible citizens, we are obliged to uplift the plight of our farmers. Let us act now.
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