Monday, May 19, 2008

Food Crisis deepens as US Aid shrinks

The current global food crisis, as opposed to the long-prevailing ones that have continually plagued humankind, of centuries past, has been brought about by a confluence of population explosion, especially in the developing world, the so-called Third World nations, reliance on special seed germination and patent-protected monopolies by seed companies , such as Monsanto, and their financiers and the globalization juggernaut of the World Bank and their far-reaching tentacles and also consequent impact on labor immigration. Add to this the realization that oil, petrochemical fuel and fertilizer for food, as well as transportation and processing, now plays a dominant role in the recipe for feeding the planet in ways our ancestors could scarcely imagine. Biofuels are now adding to the controversies as it seems to be placing a premium on crops that once fed people and livestock, and now is converting to engines and machines. Ethenol will consume one third of the total corn production in the US this coming year. The equations are not adding up. It takes seven times more energy to produce a one pound box of cereal than the food value contained is worth, to cite but one illustration. Animal protein conversion - what protein (grain) it takes to feed one, and the "extraction" of meat protein ratio is even more out of whack. Food riots now occurring around the world will seemingly become more critical as it will even be the developed nations that are feeling the pinch, as fuel costs continue to ratchet up (German gasoline is over $8 a gallon) and delivering the food to the supermarket reflect it. Herewith is a post from Reuters on the Congressional fight shaping up, with the Bush team typically with their heads in the sand, heading into the last throes of its innept and corrupt administration, elections only six months away. What is also looming on the horizon is the fight over an even more essential resource for the planet - water. Stay tuned. - MS
By Missy Ryan and Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress pushed the Bush administration on Wednesday to do more to boost global agriculture, faulting a long-term decline in foreign aid for the food crisis unfurling across the developing world.
"With proper planning, foresight and coordination, this crisis might have been managed ... What the world needs is a second green revolution," Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a hearing on the skyrocketing prices wreaking havoc on world food markets.
Lawmakers from both parties called for a reinvigorated U.S. response, akin to the push that raised crop yields and saved millions from starvation in Asia and beyond in the 1960s.
Food prices have risen over the past year in step with increased food demand in emerging economies, paltry harvests, record oil prices and growing biofuel production, a trend that is thrusting 100 million additional people into hunger.
At the same time, aid to fragile nations' farm sectors has dropped off in recent decades as donors like the World Bank and the U.S. government turned to other priorities like HIV/AIDS.
U.S. funding for agriculture development since 2000 has averaged just a third of what it was in the 1980s, bemoaned Sen. Dick Lugar, the committee's top Republican.
"Food shortages are likely to recur frequently, if the United States and the global community fail to ... invest in agricultural productivity in the developing world," he said.
For Lugar and other lawmakers, biotechnology and more open agricultural commerce are also promising avenues in the quest to help poor nations to feed themselves.
In that, they see eye-to-eye with the Bush administration. But it is unclear how quickly, and with how much money, the administration will respond in overhauling farm assistance.
President George W. Bush called this month for $770 million in new food and disaster assistance, including $150 million in agriculture development, for fiscal 2009.
The $150 million "will allow us to begin to reverse" that long-term decline, Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told lawmakers, stressing that the private sector would also play an important role.
"I am confident we -- the U.S. and other donors -- can stem and reverse the supply-demand imbalance," Fore said.
James Lyons, an official at Oxfam America, called for a doubling of U.S. farm aid to at least $600 million a year. (MS note: Here is the statement from OXFAM about the food crisis): "Prices of food have reached record levels. At the current rate, 600 million people will be hungry by 2020 – that's ten times the population of the UK. Combined with longer-term problems like rain and crop failure, we're now facing a serious crisis.
Poor people in developing countries spend between 50-80 per cent of their income on food
Wheat prices are up 120 per cent and rice prices have risen by 75 per cent
The issue is already being played out in food riots across the globe; Mexico, Egypt, Tanzania and Senegal have all seen their people take to the streets.
Why is it happening?
Climate change, high oil prices, increased demand from China and India, population growth and the growing pressure for biofuels are just some of the reasons for soaring prices.
But there are other factors playing a part, like underinvestment in agriculture, the dominance of big companies, and the mismanagement of agriculture and food policy.
What needs to happen?
Food prices are threatening the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable people. But they are also an opportunity for governments to act:
Rich countries must give more money to poor countries to help reduce the immediate shock of high food prices
They must also review their current targets for biofuels, which often directly compete against food and feed crops
They should reform the food aid system so that instead of shipping food from miles away they buy it locally or give people cash
Poor country governments have a role to play too. They must invest in agriculture and infrastructure to help put small farmers in a better position to benefit from higher prices. Any they need to be wary of signing up to unfair economic agreements".

In the short run, only food aid -- rice, cooking oil, and more -- can stanch hunger. But the buying power of aid budgets has taken a big hit this year amid high food and fuel costs.
The United Nations' World Food Program will cut 450,000 school lunches in Cambodia, and more cuts will follow.
Josette Sheeran, the agency's director, said donors like Japan and Canada were digging into their pockets, and relaxing purchasing rules, to help the agency, which faces a funding gap of at least $755 million this year.
The United States, the top food aid donor, at the same time is coming under renewed fire for its food aid purchasing rules, which require it to buy crops at home, rather than close to the crisis, tacking on time and money to aid shipments.
Andrew Natsios (photo, l.) a former USAID administrator, told a House hearing that the system "frequently has a depressive effect on agricultural markets, particularly in Africa."
Another divisive issue is the growing reliance on biofuels, which Congress embraced last year to help ease the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Ethanol, which critics say pushes up food prices by diverting food and feed crops, is forecast to consume about 33 percent of the U.S. corn crop this year.
The administration believes ethanol accounts for a tiny share of higher food prices and is quick to note the United States is moving to other biofuel sources like switchgrass.
Corn Belt lawmakers are likely to defend the program to the hilt. "Cutting ethanol production now would leave us even more vulnerable to the political whims of governments that control 80 percent of world oil reserves," Lugar said.
(Editing by Walter Bagley

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