Filed under: Food, Poverty | Tags: InterAction, Josette Sheeran, Robert Zoellick, Samuel Worthington, World Bank, World Food Program
Yesterday, I attended an event at the Brookings Institution, the focus of which was the “silent tsunami,” a term coined by the World Food Program’s Josette Sheeran to describe the growing global food crisis. The panel was comprised of Sheeran, World Bank President Robert Zoellick and Samuel Worthington, President of InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based NGOs that deal specifically with issues of poverty. To call the topic of discussion dismaying would be a profound understatement. I’ve covered food security a few times before, especially at the height of the crisis in 2008 when food prices around the world were leading political instability in several countries.. Things were bad then, but they can in fact get much worse in the years ahead.
As it stands, some 17% of the world’s growing population lives in hunger and 90% of malnutrition can be found in only 36 countries. Worse, with a little more than 5 years left until 2015, the Millennium Development Challenge goal of reducing global poverty and hunger by 50% seems highly unlikely. With the current global financial crisis, donor countries are finding it increasingly difficult to contribute to organizations such as the World Food Program. And the programs that do exist have neglected agricultural development. All of this while global food prices have increased by 50% since 2000.
According to World Bank estimates, more than 53 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the current crisis. What, if anything, is the solution? What is needed, according to the panelists, is for governments to take ownership of food security issues by implementing targeted safety nets. Food stamps here in the United States, for example, are an effective safety net. Sheeran mentioned Brasil’s Bolsa Família, a safety net program started in 2003 as part of the countries larger Fome Zero plan of eradicating extreme poverty, as a successful model. One reason that Bolsa Família is so powerful is that it is targeted. Under the program, poor Brasilian families are given stipends, but only on the condition that parents put their children in school and have them vaccinated and that pregnant women seek neonatal care. The highly successful program reaches more than 11 million families in the country, especially those in the Nordeste, where poverty is most acute.
The program’s success has also been credited to the fact that the direct cash transfers are preferably made to the mother. The program is hailed as one of the best anti-poverty measures in the world. According to the World Bank, “Ninety-four percent of the funds reach the poorest 40 percent of the population. Studies prove that most of the money is used to buy food, school supplies, and clothes for the children.”
What is needed is for all governments to adopt a similar strategy that gives agency to the poor but also makes the assistance conditioned on other development goals, such as education. The food security issue must shift from a humanitarian one and into a program of long-term stabilization. Simply put, as the food crisis grows and donors are less capable of dealing with it, national governments must tackle the issue head-on and take ownership of poverty.
One part of the discussion specifically interested me. In discussing the causes of the food crisis, Zoellick, who has long championed free trade, mentioned the current impasse at the Doha Round as a contributing factor to global food insecurity. In fact, he mentioned trade barriers and the practice of hoarding as contributing to the crisis. Both these points are very valid. The disconnect, at least in my eyes, is that while trade barriers do often exasperate some problems and lead to market inefficiencies, free trade itself can also make problems worse. For example, Sheeran mentioned the World Food Program’s program of buying all of its iodized salt from Senegal. Under free trade, iodized salt from Senegal would face a tough time competing with cheaper imported salt from the United States or China, putting Senegalese manufacturers out of business. If trade barriers produce negative results, what then are the shortcomings, if any, to the free trade paradigm advanced by Zoellick? Unfortunately, the question and answer session ended before I could ask him the question.
Filed under: Food, Poverty | Tags: CounterPunch, Ethanol, Food Crisis, Ralph Nader, World Food Program
Here is Ralph Nader’s take on the global food crisis. It is interesting to note that Nader, who is running as an independent in this year’s election, seems to be the only candidate that understands the severity and long term implications of the global food crisis. Obama, his Democratic rival Clinton and the presumptive Republican candidate McCain have not truly outlined ways that we as a society can tackle the crisis. Rather, they have all shown some concern about the role that ethanol has played in this but have neglected to talk about how the system as a whole, the Farm Bill, the Doha Round impasse and the like are issues that we need to tackle if we want to stop the growth of this problem. Nader argues strongly that “Corn ethanol is a multifaceted monstrosity-radiating damage in all directions of the compass”.
I spoke with my uncle earlier today and he remarked that in Afghanistan, some food stuffs have nearly doubled in recent months. Solving this crisis takes more than rethinking the biofuel paradigm, it takes a massive overhaul of how the current global agricultural system is managed and in some cases, how it is not managed. Nader seems to get it. Earlier in the day, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor David Balaam from the University of Puget Sound department of International Political Economy. Professor Balaam’s area of expertise is in agricultural policy and I will post that segment on this here blog once it has been cut.
Courtesy of America’s Best Political Newsletter, CounterPunch
Where is Harry Chapin when we need him? The popular folk singer (Cat’s in the Cradle), who lost his life in an auto crash 27 years ago, was an indefatigable force of nature against hunger-in this country and around the world.
To hear Harry speak out against the scourge of hunger in a world of plenty was to hear informed passion that was relentless whether on Capitol Hill, at poverty conferences or at his concerts.
Now the specter of world hunger is looming, with sharply rising basic food prices and unnecessary food shortages sparking food riots in places like Haiti and Egypt. Officials with the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) are alarmed. The WFP has put out an emergency appeal for more funds, saying another 100 million humans have been thrown into the desperate hunger pits.
Harry would have been all over the politicians in Congress and the White House who, with their bellies full, could not muster the empathy to do something.
Directly under Bush and the Congress is the authority to reduce the biggest single factor boosting food prices-reversing the tax-subsidized policy of growing ever more corn to turn into fuel at the expense of huge acreages that used to produce wheat, soy, rice and other edibles.
Corn ethanol is a multifaceted monstrosity-radiating damage in all directions of the compass. Reducing acreage for edible crops has sparked a surge in the price of bread and other foodstuffs. Congress and Bush continue to mandate larger amounts of subsidized corn ethanol.
Republican Representative Robert W. Goodlatte says: “The mandate basically says [corn] ethanol comes ahead of food on your table, comes ahead of feed for livestock, comes ahead of grains available for export.”
The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan writes a very good article discussing what is now being called the ‘Silent Tsunami‘.
More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a “silent tsunami” of sharply rising food prices, which have sparked riots around the world and threaten U.N.-backed feeding programs for 20 million children, the top U.N. food official said Tuesday.
“This is the new face of hunger — the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), said at a London news conference. “The world’s misery index is rising.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hosting Sheeran and other private and government experts at his 10 Downing Street offices, said the growing food crisis has pushed prices to their highest levels since 1945 and rivals the current global financial turmoil as a threat to world stability.