Wednesday, February 23, 2011

food news

There is no doubt whatsoever that rising food costs are hurting people all over the world. More than half of the world's population spends 50% of their income or more on food, and the massive rise in staple prices threatens to increase famine rates drastically. It is also undoubtedly true that rising food prices are digging into the budgets of average people. For the 40-plus million Americans who are food insecure (that is, they may or may not go hungry in any given month, but they aren't sure there's going to be food) are increasingly stretched. Everyone is finding that food and energy inflation are cutting into their budget substantially.

The long hours required by industrial society also have the further "benefit" of ensuring that it is extremely difficult for those embedded in it to meet their needs outside the money economy. It is difficult (not impossible, just difficult) to feed yourself from a garden when economic policies supporting urbanization create incentives to build on every piece of land, and when one works long hours, or multiple jobs. As we see now, it is difficult even to feed your family a home cooked meal, much less grow one.

For example, in "1066: The Year of the Conquest" historian David Howarth notes that the average 11th century British serf worked one day a week to pay for his house, the land that he fed himself off of, his access to his lord's woodlot for heating fuel, and a host of other provisions, including a barrel of beer for him and his neighbor on each Saints day (and there were a lot of him). How many of us can earn our mortgage payment, our heat, and our beer on a single day's work?

As George Kent exhaustively documents in "The Political Economy of Hunger", the main beneficiaries of the Green Revolution were not, in fact, the world's poor, the supposed recipients of our help, but the food buying members of the urbanized rich world, who got increasing quantities of cheap meat and food products. This study was backed up by a 1986 World Bank study that concluded that increased food production in itself does not reduce hunger, and that the gains of the Green Revolution went overwhelming to the Global North. What these increases in product do, however, is reduce food prices paid to farmers, thus meaning fewer people can make their living successfully in agriculture. It does create surpluses to dump on markets, thus increasing market volatility, and it does create incentives to turn farmland into urban land, and to increase the size of cities and their suburbs.

Mark Rosegrant, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and co-author of the study, said the impact of eating more meat was felt on the cost of maize, which was used as livestock feed, rather than on the prices of wheat and rice, the main staples in most developing countries. But in Sub-Saharan countries, where maize is a staple, lower meat consumption could reduce the number of malnourished children younger than five by a million by 2030. In countries outside of Africa, the effect on the number of hungry children was not as great, said Rosegrant.

Authors, Delia Grace and John McDermott, warned that the intensification of livestock production in many developing countries was focused on increasing food production and making more money, with little regard for the potential effects on human health. Animals transmit about 61 percent of all human pathogens and 75 percent of new human pathogens, according to the ILRI. The resulting illnesses are called zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza and the Nipah virus infection, which causes inflammation of the brain and respiratory ailments. Livestock diseases could not only endanger food security in poor countries, where some 700 million people keep farm animals and up to 40 percent of household income depends on them, but also threaten human health when viruses spread from their animal hosts to human beings. “I am not suggesting people in developing countries should give up on meat - I am all for balanced diets and sourcing minerals, such as zinc, from meat naturally,” said McDermott. “What we want to highlight is the need to manage the risks.”

Rather than focusing on reducing meat consumption, the IFPRI paper suggested that developing countries ensure good economic growth. This would provide incomes that allowed their people to access food and invest in agricultural and infrastructure development, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, good roads, communications, and effective markets, resulting in improved food security. Eating less meat could help, Rosegrant said, and diversifying diets to include vegetables and fruits would have additional health benefits.

Producing food and energy side-by-side may offer one of the best formulas for boosting countries' food and energy security. The study, "Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) Work for People and Climate - An Overview", draws on specific examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as from some developed countries to show how constraints to successfully integrating production of food and energy crops can be overcome. "For example, poor farmers can use leftovers from rice crops to produce bioenergy, or in an agroforestry system can use debris of trees used to grow crops like fruits, coconuts or coffee beans for cooking," he explained, noting that other types of food and energy systems use by-products from livestock for biogas production.

If we truly consider world hunger to be an abomination, and not merely an investment opportunity, big changes need to be made and that means the establishment of socialism.

No comments: