Severe food shortages, price spikes threaten world


darkbeaver
#1
World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org


WSWS : News & Analysis : Global Inequality
Severe food shortages, price spikes threaten world population

By Naomi Spencer
22 December 2007


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Worldwide food prices have risen sharply and supplies have dropped this year, according to the latest food outlook of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency warned December 17 that the changes represent an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift in the global food system, threatening billions with hunger and decreased access to food.
The FAO’s food price index rose by 40 percent this year, on top of the already high 9 percent increase the year before, and the poorest countries spent 25 percent more this year on imported food. The prices for staple crops, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, all rose drastically in 2007, pushing up prices for grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products and spurring inflation throughout the consumer food market.
Driving these increases are a complex range of developments, including rapid urbanization of populations and growing demand for food stuffs in key developing countries such as China and India, speculation in the commodities markets, increased diversion of feedstock crops into the production of biofuels, and extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters associated with climate change.
Because of the long-term and compounding nature of all of these factors, the problems of rising prices and decreasing supplies in the food system are not temporary or one-time occurrences, and cannot be understood as cyclical fluctuations in supply and demand.
The world reserves of cereals are dwindling. In the past year, wheat stores declined 11 percent. The FAO notes that this is the lowest level since the UN began keeping records in 1980, while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that world wheat stocks may have fallen to 47-year lows. By FAO figures, the falloff in wheat stores equals about 12 weeks worth of global consumption.
The USDA has cautioned that wheat exporters in the US have already sold more than 90 percent of what the department had expected to be exported during the fiscal year ending June 2008. This has dire consequences for the world’s poor, whose diets consist largely of cereal grains imported from the United States and other major producers.
More than 850 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger and other associated miseries of extreme poverty. According to the FAO, 37 countries—20 in Africa, 9 in Asia, 6 in Latin America, and 2 in Eastern Europe—currently face exceptional shortfalls in food production and supplies.
Those most affected live in countries dependent on imports. The poorest people, whose diets consist heavily of cereal grains, are most vulnerable. Already the poor spend the majority of their income on staple foods—up to 80 percent in some regions, according to the FAO. Ever-rising prices will lead to a distinct deterioration in the diets of these sections of the population.
The food crisis is intensifying social discontent and raising the likelihood of social upheavals. The FAO notes that political unrest “directly linked to food markets” has developed in Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. In the past year, cereal prices have triggered riots in several other countries, including Mexico, where tortilla prices were pushed up 60 percent. In Italy, the rising cost of pasta prompted nationwide protests. Unrest in China has also been linked to cooking oil shortages.
In addition to the cost of imports, war and civil strife, multiple years of drought and other disasters, and the impact of HIV/AIDS have crippled countries’ food supply mechanisms.
Iraq and Afghanistan both suffer severe shortfalls because of the US invasion and ongoing occupation. North African countries are hard hit by the soaring wheat prices because many staple foods require imported wheat.
Countries of the former Soviet Union are facing wheat shortages. People there spend upwards of 70 percent of their incomes on food; the price of bread in Kyrgyzstan has risen by 50 percent this year and the government released emergency reserves of wheat in the poorest areas to temporarily ease the crisis.
In Bangladesh, food prices have spiraled up 11 percent every month since July; rice prices have risen by nearly 50 percent in the past year.
Central American countries saw a 50 percent increase in the price of that region’s staple grain, corn. Several countries in South America have also been impacted by the high international wheat prices, compelling national governments to dispense with import taxes. The government in Bolivia, for example, has dispatched the military to operate industrial-scale bread bakeries.
All national governments are keenly aware of the possibility of civil unrest in the event of severe food shortages or famine, and many have taken minimal steps to ease the crisis in the short term, such as reducing import tariffs and erecting export restrictions. On December 20, China did away with food export rebates in an effort to stave off domestic shortfalls. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Argentina have also implemented export controls.
But such policies cannot adequately cope with the crisis in the food system because they do not address the causes, only the immediate symptoms. Behind the inflation are the complex inter-linkages of global markets and the fundamental incompatibility of the capitalist system with the needs of billions of poor and working people.
The volatility of the financial markets, driven by speculation and trading in equity and debt, intersects with the futures and options markets that have a direct bearing on agricultural commodity markets. As the housing market in the United States collapsed, compounding problems in the credit market and threatening recession, speculation shifted to the commodities markets, exacerbating inflation in basic goods and materials. The international food market is particularly prone to volatility because current prices are greatly influenced by speculation over future commodity prices. This speculation can then trigger more volatility, encouraging more speculation.
Future grain prices are a striking example of this disastrous cycle. On December 17, speculation on wheat and rice for delivery in March 2008 forced prices to historic highs on the Chicago Board of Trade. Wheat jumped to more than $10 a bushel on projections of worsening shortages and inflation. This level is double the $5-a-bushel price of wheat at the beginning of 2007.
Japan, the largest wheat importer in Asia, announced December 19 that it may raise wheat prices by 30 percent. The same day, Indian government officials warned of impending food security problems. These were due, according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to “clouds on global financial markets following the sub-prime lending crisis.”
Soybean and corn prices have also been pushed up to 34-year and 11-year highs, respectively, on the projected shortages and demand for biofuel. These new trading levels become the agricultural benchmarks for subsequent trading, and, as the Financial Times put it December 17, have the consequence of “raising inflationary pressure and constraining the ability of central banks to mitigate economic slowdown.”
Higher fuel costs ultimately lead to higher food prices, via higher shipping charges, particularly for nations that import a large proportion of their staple foods. Shipping costs for bulk commodities have increased by more than 80 percent in the past year and 57 percent since June, according to the Baltic Exchange Dry Index.
The FAO report noted that the enormous increase in freight costs has had the effect of dis-integrating the world market in certain regions because many import-heavy countries have opted to purchase from closer suppliers, resulting in “prices at regional or localized levels falling out of line with world levels.”
The rising oil price not only affects the costs of transportation and importation. It also has a direct impact on the costs of farm operation in the working of agricultural and industrial processing machinery. Moreover, fertilizer, which takes its key component, nitrogen, from natural gas, is also spiking in price because of the impact of rising oil prices on the demand and costs of other fuels. By the same token, as oil prices rise, the demand for biofuel sources such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans also rises, resulting in more and more feedstock crops being devoted to fuel and additives production.
In the US, the use of corn for ethanol production has doubled since 2003, and is projected by the FAO to increase from 55 million metric tons to 110 million metric tons by 2016. The US government is more ambitious. On December 19, President Bush signed a new energy bill into law which contains a mandate for expanding domestic biofuel production five-fold over the next 15 years, to more than 36 billion gallons a year. Already a third of the US corn harvest is devoted to ethanol production, surpassing the amount of corn bound for the world food markets.
As more US cropland is devoted to ethanol-bound corn, other major agricultural regions are struggling with weather disasters associated with climate change. Australia and the Ukraine, both significant exporters of wheat, have suffered extreme weather that damaged crops. A prolonged drought in southern Australia has curtailed farming to such a degree that many farmers have sold their land.
Current research suggests that as temperatures rise over the next fifty years by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius, poor countries may lose 135 million hectares (334 million acres) of arable land because of lost rainfall. In new studies published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have cautioned that this estimate may be conservative, and that the impact of climate change on food production has been over-simplified.
According to NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies researcher Francesco Tubiello, complications of climate change on the world food supply may be far worse than previously predicted: “The projections show a smooth curve, but a smooth curve has never happened in history. Things happen suddenly, and then you can’t respond to them.”
Tubiello’s research focuses on extreme weather events that have devastated entire crops when they coincided with germination and blossoming periods, as was the case with Italy’s corn crop in 2003. Tubiello noted that corn yield in the Po valley growing region fell to 36 percent following a heat wave that raised Italy’s temperatures 6 degrees over the long-term average.
In addition to the survival thresholds of plants, researchers have begun studying the effects of higher temperatures on the physiology and diseases of livestock, as well as the spread of pests, molds and viruses native to tropical zones. Goddard Institute research has suggested that bluetongue, a viral disease of cattle and sheep, will move outward from the tropics into regions including southern Australia. According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, higher temperatures will lead to higher infertility in livestock and lower dairy yields.
The implications of these studies are that farming adaptations such as hardier crops and shifts in planting times may initially mitigate anticipated global warming. Yet over the coming decades, the stress of climate change on the food supply will also intensify in abrupt and catastrophic ways for which the capitalist system and its ruling elites are entirely unprepared and which they are unable to prevent.

 
gopher
#2
In the meantime, the USA government is paying billions to corn farmers to grow corn for fuel rather than food.

What a crime!
 
L Gilbert
#3
Oh great. I live to eat. I love food. Damn communists anyway for all these plots. Always have to control everything in the name of the people who they'd like to see feast & dine on a bowl of rice a day as the upper crust has to make do with meager pickings like lobster thermidor, duck a l'orange, and prime rib 2 or 3 times a day. lol
 
gopher
#4
``I live to eat. I love food.``


You are not alone in that regard.

Your words remind me of the Bible's teaching on the subject where it says, ''blessed are they which hunger'' and ''when I hungered, ye gave me meat and when I was thirsty ye gave me drink'' in Matthew 5:6 and 25:42. For a nation of professing Christians, the obligation is to feed the poor, not the rich like the Republicans always do.
 
MikeyDB
#5
I'm just waiting for the latest tune from the petro-techno-junkies...

"See if we'd really invaded Iraq for their oil...we wouldn't need to concern ourselves with this notion of a "food shortage"...it is after all, about U.S....as in "us"..." continuing to enjoy the prosperity of a fossil fuel dependent economy...."

"There's no reason to believe that the supply of petroleum products that we've built our economy our societies and our governments around will ever run out! When we need more we'll just name some nation as a new axis of evil and bring "freedom" to their oil reserves.."

"Corn wheat ...all grains were "meant" to supply the food needs of humanity and shouldn't be wasted by growing them to feed our appetites for fossil fuels. "God" intended humankind to burn oil and plastic injection molding is mentioned in the bible as god's will..."

"If we didn't have fuel to plant and harvest our crops even more people would be hungry and suffering..."

"It's all about my prosperity and if a few million go hungry that's just the price they'll pay for not embracing my values and my perspective on life..."
 
Walter
#6
Quote: Originally Posted by darkbeaver View Post

World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org

Nuff said.
 
MikeyDB
#7
Walter...Seasons greetings!

The power (if there is such a notion embedded in the facility to communicate) is in learning to distinguish between the false, the misdirection and the politicized agenda of "free-speech" as 'entertained' through the World Wide Web...

You've promoted the notion that anthropogenic contribution to the "myth of global warming" is misdirection at a minimum and a concerted effort at the other extreme to impede human progress through citing false information provided by the scientific community in the effort to evangelize the presumed destruction of this planets atmosphere et al. The logic that billions of tons of carbon buried far beneath the planets surface for thousands of years released into the atmosphere in a comparatively short time couldn't possibly have any influence on global climate patterns or the melting of glaciers all over the world. OK You reject the idea that the vast majority of scientific investigation seems to indicate that there is reasonable evidence offering the conclusion that in fact human industry and world economies driven by fossil fuel energy is responsible to some degree for the situation....

You've offered "data" from various sources (including paid nabobs of the petro-interests swill) that 'global warming' is a myth....

But in the final analysis you post a page from the "socialists" website and encourage people to dismiss anything and everything written as commentary or offered as 'data' from this site because not only do you have a bedrock fear of the economic system, that you 'learned' from the pages of history and embraced as "truth" when you read it... but can now with this wealth of borrowed conclusions as your basis infer that anyone daring to not share the same worldview as yourself should be simply dismissed...!

Can we not (in that great idea of "fairness" that perhaps underwrites your opinions...) completely and utterly dismiss your opinion on "the myth of global warming" by applying the same logic to your contributions?
 
gopher
#8
Reagan666 as an avatar?

Nuff said!
 
darkbeaver
#9
I suggest that all my fellow posters plan on a bit of vegetable gardening this coming summer. Dig a cold cellar, get some mason jars, get back to nature before it gets back to you. Things are maybe going to be in short supply and expensive. If the rich get rid of a lot of the poor it'll drive the wealth disparity down, won't it?
 
gopher
#10
Great idea - unfortunately, I do not own a house and there is no area for a Victory Garden where I live!
 
darkbeaver
#11
Lots of people don't have the oportunity do they gopher? There are reliable figures for what happens when the supermarkets go down, there are even case studys, like Stalingrad or any other modern conflict zone. When the lights go out in suburbia it 's going to be chaos for a while, that's why I'm writing a cook book about domestic pets and healthy nieghbours.
 
Nuggler
#12
Let them eat pussy.

(or cake, whichever "comes" first)


BAD NUGG..................BAD!!!
 
darkbeaver
#13
Lots of people don't have the oportunity do they gopher? There are reliable figures for what happens when the supermarkets go down, there are even case studys, like Stalingrad or any other modern conflict zone. When the lights go out in suburbia it 's going to be chaos for a while, that's why I'm writing a cook book about domestic pets and healthy nieghbours.
 
jimshort19
#14
Always trust the socialists. Mao and Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot et al held the high ground. The imperialist capitalistic system is breaking down as predicted! The world will end on February... oops, that's the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Always trust your local religious professional!
 
darkbeaver
#15
Quote: Originally Posted by Nuggler View Post

Let them eat pussy.

(or cake, whichever "comes" first)


BAD NUGG..................BAD!!!

That's chapter two nuggler.
 
Lester
#16
Quote: Originally Posted by darkbeaver View Post

Lots of people don't have the oportunity do they gopher? There are reliable figures for what happens when the supermarkets go down, there are even case studys, like Stalingrad or any other modern conflict zone. When the lights go out in suburbia it 's going to be chaos for a while, that's why I'm writing a cook book about domestic pets and healthy nieghbours.

When the famine happened in the Ukraine, mothers kept one eye on their kids and another on their neighbour. cannabilism was rampant
 
darkbeaver
#17
Same think during the seige of Lenningrad.
 
Unforgiven
#18
We just need one or two glitches to happen to the food web to cause a major melt down of species we depend upon to feed us. And the way we go about mucking up the oceans and the food stocks, I'm thinking that's inevitable. Sooner or later, the population will be high and the glitch will come along, then it's going to snowball.

I can't imagine our whole species going out that way but I can see things getting pretty ugly over it.
 
darkbeaver
#19
I was reading that the natural corn varietys of Mexico have been cross polinated with GM corn forced into mexico by NAFTA, 70% of the natural varietys are thought to contaminated. The same type of thing has and is happening arround the world. The performance promised by Monsanto and Dow and the rest of the chemical- agro-corp have never materialized and the IMF ivariably insists third world countrys adopt western GM seeds. Food production for the poor was not the primary motive for GM use. Many of the GM plants have been found to be less nutritious and unstable and they are polluting the gene pool rapidly, good news though there's a big seed bank in the artic. Wonder why?
 
jimshort19
#20
Walter has it right. Dark Beaver relies on propaganda organizations for his news. Note that rich and sensible capitalists and their worker stooges will not starve.

The end is nigh! The socialist rally cry. Let fear drive the weak-minded into the arms of oppression. There they have starved in times past, and will starve again, no global warming required.
 
lone wolf
#21
Quote: Originally Posted by jimshort19 View Post

Walter has it right. Dark Beaver relies on propaganda organizations for his news. Note that rich and sensible capitalists and their worker stooges will not starve.

The end is nigh! The socialist rally cry. Let fear drive the weak-minded into the arms of oppression. There they have starved in times past, and will starve again, no global warming required.

Dunno Jim. Hitler a socialist? Might be an idea for you to study up on a few facts too.

Frankenfood.... Is it going to eat us in the end? Biofuel - hydrocarbons from carbohydrates....

Somewhere along the way I learned that if you have to miss a meal for a pleasure then you have an addiction. Ol' Bill may have to come up with a 12 step for car drivers now....

Hi.... I'm Woof!
 
karrie
#22
Totally wolf... addicted to freedom of movement... that would be an apt description of what's gotten humanity into this particular pickle.
 
jimshort19
#23
Lone wolf, "Dunno Jim. Hitler a socialist? Might be an idea for you to study up on a few facts too."

The National Socialist Workers Party was Hitler's socialist political party. Now here's the real hard part to understand, there is no such thing as a socialist leader. Just demagogues. A socialist leader is in favour of centralized power and centralized capitalism, and the central thing is the leader himself. Hitler gave not a hoot for anything but power. He setting up hate targets (Jews his fave) and materialist promises (Volkswagens for all) for the weak-minded to rally to. This is a strategy that still wins today on this forum, but will not likely ever overcome the free world.

If you deny that Hitler was a socialist simply because he was labelled right wing by leftists, you are highly suggestive. If you deny that Hitler was a socialist because he was not a socialist, you are still wrong because Hitler was a liar and used socialism to decieve people, and that is standard socialist proceedure.

I suggest that you try relying on socialist news for a year. Read only news sources approved by Towsey and Dark Beaver. This little experiment will clue you in to what socialism is all about. It's about power. But it was a socialist that applied the materialist label to freedom (capitalism) and the humane label to tyranny (communism) and the labels stuck. It is in part because of these labels that weak minded people make horrifically mistaken moral decisions. Everything is upside down. The socialists are the materialists and the capitalists are for freedom.

Pay no attention to labels. A wise man said, "Judge a tree by the fruit it bears."
 
darkbeaver
#24
A Short quote:
"Pay no attention to labels. A wise man said, "Judge a tree by the fruit it bears."

Your judgeing trees that have been gone for six decades by fruit that needs re-evaluation.

Now lets use your maxim and look at todays capitalist tree and it's fruit
constant war, famine, starvation, poverty, concentration of wealth, imperialism, corporate corruption, crime, disease, misinformation, inefficency, moral and ideological and ethical retardation, the police state, fascism. Where's the beef Jim? What has capitalism done for us lately Jim. Who are you addressing in your propa-lite postings?

Anybody can claim to be socialist and thereby fool the people.

George Bush & Co; claim to be the planets foremost exponents of democracy. Are they really? Seems that you may believe that. Or are you following some other agenda?
 
darkbeaver
#25
Isreal was for many years an example of socialism at work, and indeed were it not for socialism Isreal would not exist. Kibbutz=communist farming centers in Isreal, the founding backbone of Isreal , still very popular, revered human institutions acctually because they work and work better than any thing else at food production, very efficient. Jim is just a kibitzer.
 
lone wolf
#26
Quote: Originally Posted by jimshort19 View Post

Lone wolf, "Dunno Jim. Hitler a socialist? Might be an idea for you to study up on a few facts too."

The National Socialist Workers Party was Hitler's socialist political party. Now here's the real hard part to understand, there is no such thing as a socialist leader. Just demagogues. A socialist leader is in favour of centralized power and centralized capitalism, and the central thing is the leader himself. Hitler gave not a hoot for anything but power. He setting up hate targets (Jews his fave) and materialist promises (Volkswagens for all) for the weak-minded to rally to. This is a strategy that still wins today on this forum, but will not likely ever overcome the free world.

If you deny that Hitler was a socialist simply because he was labelled right wing by leftists, you are highly suggestive. If you deny that Hitler was a socialist because he was not a socialist, you are still wrong because Hitler was a liar and used socialism to decieve people, and that is standard socialist proceedure.

I suggest that you try relying on socialist news for a year. Read only news sources approved by Towsey and Dark Beaver. This little experiment will clue you in to what socialism is all about. It's about power. But it was a socialist that applied the materialist label to freedom (capitalism) and the humane label to tyranny (communism) and the labels stuck. It is in part because of these labels that weak minded people make horrifically mistaken moral decisions. Everything is upside down. The socialists are the materialists and the capitalists are for freedom.

Pay no attention to labels. A wise man said, "Judge a tree by the fruit it bears."

Oh, Jim, please.... All that empty hot air is creating a draft. Hitler was extreme right. Socialist is a misnomer. You're so bloody stuck with labels it's a wonder you can move your fingers to type this crap.

Hint: Book - thing with pages. Mein Kampf....

Woof!
Last edited by lone wolf; Jan 16th, 2008 at 12:41 PM..
 
jimshort19
#27
Dark Beaver, "George Bush & Co; claim to be the planets foremost exponents of democracy. Are they really? "

Firstly yes, and hands down. Foremost, absolutely. Fighting foremost. Who might you claim can touch America in this regard, America and her President? Hugo Chavez?

Secondly, why pretend to believe in freedom and democracy? Who are you trying to fool?
 
Lester
#28
Hitler a Socialist? I do not seem to recall any propaganda picture of Hitler serving soup at at any Polish Soup kitchens -Mein Kempf = Drivel Hitler was driven by three things- revenge for the treaty of versai to reclaim territories taken from Germany, The reemergence of Germany on the world stage as a power to be reckoned with and his predisposition to hating jews, which he considered first and foremost as the major reason Germany suffered as they owned a large part of Germanys businesses and Banks and held down the common man, He was a delusional tyrant nothing more.
 
jimshort19
#29
Dark Beaver, I've had a smoke. Milton Friedman was commonly acknowledged as the greatest economist on earth, in his day, and remains as the greaatest of the 20th century, probably forever. You mayn think that Naomi Klein is an economist, but she is not.

Walter, since when do socialists help the poor? Socialists are nothing but those who ndeclare themselves to be so, like Hitler and Mao, Stalin, et al. The poor die. They are poseurs for power. Real socialism doesn't exist and wannabe socialists that have no real leaders to look to admit it. They say that no communist was a socialist, and wipe the slate clean of examples in one fell swoop.

As you know Walter, the Democratic republics of Korea and Germany were not really democratic. As you also know, Hitler was no socialist. But there being no 'real' socialists, we gotta find somebody who exemplifies socialism, and Hitler is a typical liar, and socialist leaders are typically liars. That's REAL socialism.
 
darkbeaver
#30
Milton Friedman was an evil piece of dung. Total capitalist piggy, sold his granny, cheated on his paper route. Ronald Reagan needed a whacky mad economic propagandist or no body would have heard of him. He legitimized theft, extortion, and fraud all of his ideas are fraudelent, he should be dug up and shot. "Trickle down" jesus, what a disaster for the comman man and a freakin boom for the wealthy. Don't mention the ugly little monster to me again. I need a smoke.
 

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