As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

World Food Crisis Update

Though broadcast media types have it in their contract to avoid talking about starving people at all costs - just too, too depressing, you know? - US print media actually has caught up to the story and are delivering some decent reports.

Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.

Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”

That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.

This is an international crisis that's decades in the making, and attributable to a variety of factors. But this one bad crop can wipe out all of the gains on global poverty made in the past 10 or 20 years.

And of course, the food crisis is inextricably linked with the fuel crisis, as oil reached $115/barrel today.

This is the result:

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

The short-term answer is immediate food aid from the North. Longer-term, I think subsistence farming as a patriotic and economic imperative must return. The technology exists to grow something inside a planter even if you live in an apartment. A windowsill can be your farm. That's a piece of the puzzle; we also must end delivering so much agricultural product to alternative energy, and also become oil independent, which seems like a contradiction but is manageable by smart policy choices. Also, agribusiness is destroying family farms and driving up prices, and unquestionably contributing to what we're facing. Most of these are linked somewhat.

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