Saturday, April 12, 2008

Food for thought

The global price of food has risen sharply over the last 18 months. This is most acutely the case with cereals. The New York Times reports that wheat has reached its highest price in 28 years. The reasons for this phenomenon seem to be broadly accepted; see for example, Paul Krugman's column or a recent presentation (pdf) by Joachim von Braun of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Though the relative importance of the reasons is difficult to assess, the list itself seems clear (the price of oil, a growing middle class in China and India with an increasing demand for meat which requires more grain for feed, droughts likely due to climate change, Western government subsidies for biofuels like corn ethanol).

But I wonder if we shouldn't consider a different aspect of this. As the New York Times points out:
Even the poorest fifth of households in the United States spend only 16 percent of their budget on food. In many other countries, it is less of a given. Nigerian families spend 73 percent of their budgets to eat, Vietnamese 65 percent, Indonesians half.
What is wrong with our world that so many people are living so close to the edge? Hmmm ...

Update 14Apr2008: The graph below was produced using Technorati. It shows the number of blog posts (in "any language" on blogs with "some authority") containing "food crisis". Too bad most of us are at least 6 months late.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What is wrong with our world that so many people are living so close to the edge?"

Poverty is the natural state of humans unless and until they're able to climb out of it. What is stopping people in poor countries from climbing out?

What's wrong is that bad governments implement poor systems. Wealth has to be created, and people will try hard to create wealth, if they're given a chance. But if corrupt officials or common criminals constantly steal it from them, they can't create enough. If they don't have basic infrastructure or if they're blocked by meaningless regulations, they can't create enough.

People around the world are capable and want to build futures for themselves. Their own leaders don't give enough of them a chance to do so.

9:26 PM, June 12, 2008  
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