The struggle for food is not new to man. Man has battled hunger throughout the centuries, from the early hunters who tracked mammoths to the first farmers who scratched the soil to coax the grains to grow. Bible chronicles one famine after another and the Romans prayed to Olympus for food. However, World War II saw man finally win the battle over hunger, with bumper harvests in the U.S. creating food surpluses.
U.S. is no longer the bottomless cornucopia that it once was and with food supplies dwindling, the public have to face the alarming fact of increasing food prices. Even in other countries, food prices have risen higher then they have in the past few years and this is leading to violent protests in several places. Analysts feel that bringing down food prices may take at least a decade.
Amidst all this chaos, comes the comment by the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, saying that improving diets in India and China is the main reason for the price of food grains going up throughout the world.
This theory raised many eyebrows in these countries, as they felt it questioned the right of people in developing countries to eat a better diet, when they are able to afford it. They feel that eating good and healthy food becomes the right of all human beings, irrespective of where they lived in this world. Just because they could not afford it earlier, does not mean that they starve even when they are able to buy food.
The world food crisis, being called the “silent tsunami” is being attributed to distribution issues, rising oil prices, and the unintended consequence of the alternate fuels effort.
Also Rice’s comment that suggested a cap on the exports to India and China, was taken with a pinch of salt. Even Japan, which is a major food exporting country criticized the ban on food exports by some countries and promised to take it up with the WHO.
Rice said, “We obviously have to look at places where production seems to be declining and declining to the point that people are actually putting export caps on the amount of food. Now some of that is not so much declining production as apparently improvement in the diets of people, for instance, in China and India, and then pressures to keep food inside the country. So, that’s another element that we have to look at.”
One factor that everyone agrees is affecting the food supplies and people in poor countries, is the production of biofuels instead of hydrocarbons. Producing fuel from plants is said to be greener than drilling oil and biofuels are cleaner when they burn; however, producing biofuel entails more investment into these crops and less investment in food crops, resulting in rising prices of foods, which is showing a huge impact in poor countries. The area that is used for biofuel is on the increase and thousands of farmers have been lured away from growing crops for food.
Rice supplies have reached their lowest point in decades and the price is the highest in 20 years. Even the global supply of wheat is far lower than it has been in the past 50 years, and alarmingly only five weeks worth of world consumption is at hand.
In countries, where supermarket shelves are often cleared at the first intimation of snow or a low-grade hurricane, this food crisis is yet another call to hoard up food.
All this talk about food began when a Wall Street Journal shocked people by recommending that Americans start stocking food to beat the rising prices.
Columnist Brett Arendts wrote, “I don’t want to alarm anybody, but maybe it’s time for Americans to start stockpiling food. No, this is not a drill. Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster…”
Rising gas prices has been a common complaint for several months now but mounting grocery bills is something unforeseen and is the focus in a country, which has always thrived on cheap food.