Saturday, March 12, 2011


Escalating prices of food commodities are known to cause upheavals in many countries which are not self-sufficient in terms of production and too poor to afford high global prices. Most recent food-driven revolution devoured the Egyptian dictator and the "infection" seems to be spreading to other countries like Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. According to discerning observers at least 30 countries are vulnerable to food based unrest some of them likely to end up with regime change, if there is no action to control the run-away food inflation. While a debate on the reason (s) for food inflation may not find any one factor responsible for the food insecurity, it is more or less agreed that changes in food production pattern in some of the leading producing countries, probably due to weather uncertainties and consequent export policies play a critical role. The problem surfaced dramatically in 2008 when food riots took place in several countries, prompting international community to put their heads together for pre-empting such episodes in future through massive financial aid for helping out poor countries to strengthen their production base. How ever in spite of many promises, many rich countries from the G20 group shamelessly dithered while making actual contribution to the World Bank fund intended for the purpose. The result is that another food crisis is looming in the horizon for which world may not be fully prepared.

"After the last sharp price spike in 2008, the G-20 promised to invest $22 billion over three years to help vulnerable countries boost food production. To date, the World Bank fund that is supposed to administer this money has received less than $400 million. Food prices are now higher than their 2008 peak, driven by rising demand in developing countries and volatile weather, including drought in Russia and Ukraine and a dry spell in North China that threatens the crop of the world's largest wheat producer. The World Bank says the spike has pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty just since June. In 2008, 30 countries had food riots. That has not happened, at least not yet. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, has benefited from improved agricultural productivity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that Mozambique, Uganda, Mali, Niger and Somalia are extremely vulnerable to instability because of rising prices, along with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Asia, and Haiti, Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras in Latin America. Misguided government policies could make matters worse. Some countries are stockpiling food. When India did that last year, food ended up rotting in storages. Others are imposing agricultural export bans, which discourages investment in production. The world's wealthier nations must press them to rethink these polices and back that up with real help. The Obama administration has proposed worthy initiatives, but even when Democrats controlled Congress it had a hard time getting the money. The administration pledged $3.5 billion to the G-20 effort. So far, it has delivered only $66.6 million to the World Bank fund. It is now asking for $408 million for the fund — part of a $1.64 billion request for its Feed the Future initiative, which aims to bolster poor countries' food production capabilities. Congressional Republicans are determined to hack as much as they can out of foreign aid. The continuing resolution passed by the House cuts $800 million out of the food aid budget — bringing it down to about $1 billion, roughly where it was in 2001".

Sociologists will have find an answer to this disturbing phenomenon which makes the rich less and less sensitive about the miseries of fellow human beings who lead a pitiable existence, not because of their own fault but due to the freaks of history. Look at the cruel psyche of the Americans who do not want to spare the much needed corn crops as food for African population but rather divert their surplus for bio-fuel production that would ensure that their automobiles run with lesser cost and with least disruption! While some of the wealthy countries are touting their food donations as their contribution to ameliorate world hunger problem, they are forgetting that it is not the "alms" that will bring long term succor to these unfortunate countries but a strong technological foundation only can ensure self-reliance and wealth generation. A day may not be too far away, if the prevailing apathy continues, when peace and serenity on Mother planet will be shattered and world will no more be a safe place to live.


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