Thursday, April 24, 2008

Food for Thought

It's common for many Americans to forget that there is a world outside their borders beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the current food crisis - what the World Food Programme calls a "silent tsunami" - is spreading throughout parts of the world including Africa, southeast Asia and parts of the Caribbean has gone largely unnoticed. Which is particularly startling when you take notice of the fact the current crisis is in part our fault.

Most obvious is the case of Haiti, whose food riots have claimed at least six lives. Already put through the political ringer by the United States over the past two decades, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and reliant on loans from international organizations, such as the World Bank, to subsist. With the US maintaining a controlling interest in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, we set the requirements of loans to poor and developing countries. These loans in turn require an opening of trade and investment barriers on the part of the recipient country.

In Haiti's case this means they needed to open their markets to US rice, a product Haiti had been able to export in the past. Up until recently, we could distribute rice much more cheaply than developing countries could grow it and with the end of trade barriers with Haiti, our cheaper rice put local farmers out of business. With a spike in oil and gas prices, food distribution costs have risen as well. The cost of rice has doubled in the past five months - what could be purchased for 90 cents now costs $1.80 in a country where 80% of the population makes less than two dollars a day. Like in the Philippines, Indonesia and several countries in Africa that rely on food imports, riots broke out among people who haven't eaten in days for lack of the ability to pay higher prices.

The crisis is expanding, with Thailand beginning to feel the food shock and the Guardian noting Britain is seeing the greatest inflation in food costs in a generation.

While, according to Reuters, there has been some panic buying on the part of retailers like Sam's Club and Costco, Wired Science makes the case for a vegetarian diet as an activist tool in regard to the issue.

But, this offers little hope for a solution in the short-term for Haiti as the crisis threatens to send a new wave of refugees out to sea, mirroring the politically-motivated flight of Haitians in the past. The UN has set the issue at the top of its agenda for a meeting between agency heads later this month.

Turning back to American politics, it's important to keep in mind who is most likely to tackle the unfairness involved in our current trade policy after the election this fall.


Bradda said...

Great post! I've been reading quite a bit about the food crisis going on around the world and it doesn't look good. This story should be reported much more by the MSM but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Pierre V. Ross said...

guys, i'm gonna be posting something soon about this subject on hanoijake. vietnam is one of the few countries that still has a rice surplus. i'll see what i can find out