Court Convicts Food Crisis Protesters
December 15, 2008, 3:30 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

An Egyptian court has sentenced 22 people found guilty of taking part in violent food riots earlier in the year in Mahalla el-Kubra. The unrest, the worst in 30 years, irrupted amid this summer’s food crisis and the government’s faulty agricultural policy.

Al-Jazeera’s Amr El Kakhy reports on the shocking outcome:

walid zafar


AIDS and the Food Crisis
October 19, 2008, 1:50 am
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , ,


In her book, AIDS and the Ecology of Poverty, Eileen Stillwaggon asserts that “Global AIDS policy has failed to stem the epidemic spread of HIV’ because the current policy attempts to stop HIV transmission at the last possible moment, instead of grappling with the underlying causes of the epidemic.” HIV is a global pariah, and while it does not discriminate based on color or creed, some 90% of victims come from the developing world. Its prevalence in subaltern societies is linked to the fact that people who are economically disadvantaged are more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as HIV and other maladies found predominantly in the developing world.

Stuart Gillespie, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute, connects the rise of global food crisis to the AIDS epidemic. As politicians and economists continue to discuss the implications of the current economic meltdown, and the looming recession that is expected to worsen in the coming months, what is not often discussed is how the liquidity crisis plaguing Western financial institutions will put further upward pressure on food prices around the world and specifically, in the developing world. Gillespie notes that there is no one singe factor that has caused the current crisis. Several months ago, Professor Dave Balaam from the University of Puget Sound, whose area of interest is in agricultural policy, came on the Melon to discuss the factors that have contributed to the food crisis.=

[audio:|titles=Interview with David Balaam]

Download Mp3

According to the World Food Programme, the majority of ‘high-risk countries’, meaning those countries that are in most need of the food aid, are in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, not coincidentally, is also the region with some of the highest HIV rates in the world. The link between poverty and HIV seems pretty clear.

Here are Gilliespie’s main conclusions:

  • Sudden increases in food insecurity often lead to distress migration as people search for work and food. Mobility is a marker of enhanced risk of HIV exposure, both for the person moving, and for other adults who may remain at home.
  • Food insecurity at the household level is likely to translate over time into higher rates of adult malnutrition with possible detrimental effects on immune status.
  • Where food insecurity translates into increased rates of maternal malnutrition, we can expect to see a rise in babies born with low birth weight, who in turn may be at higher risk of vertical (mother to child) HIV transmission.

Certainly, HIV and food insecurity are closely related to one another, and while poverty makes the effects of HIV more pronounced and HIV destroys a countries workforce, which worsens poverty levels. What is clear is that there is a vicious cycle between the two. But while billions are going into the developing world in order to treat and curtail the spread of HIV, very little is going towards one of the main risk factors: poverty. Once credit markets are restored, which most economics do not see happening in the near future, the focus should turn to poverty. It is only through fighting poverty that the billions spent on AIDS research each year will happen a tenable impact on global health in the world.

South Africa tries to Curb Xenophobic Hysteria
May 20, 2008, 7:16 am
Filed under: Africa, Poverty, Racism, South Africa | Tags: , , ,

BuaNews reports on the xenophobic violence plaguing some of South Africa’s largest cities. Thousands of foreigners, mostly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, have fled into refugee shelters since the violence began on May 11 in Alexandra township. The foreigners are expectantly being accused of stealing jobs and perpetuating the general chaos that plagues most of the townships. The government is scrambling to curb the rise of violent attacks and President Thabo Mbeki has made a public plea for the violence to end. What is most disturbing about the current spate of xenophobic hysteria is that South Africa hails itself as a bastion of anti-racism.

Bongani Jonas, Chief of Metro Police, said law enforcement agencies have a duty to protect the lives and property of all who reside in this country.

“We have noted with great concern that the perpetrators of these attacks did not hesitate to use live ammunition against unarmed and defenceless people.

“Such acts will be met with the full might of the law”, he said.

President Thabo Mbeki has called for the violent attacks on foreign nationals residing in the country to come to an end.

Anger over unemployment and crime, which has been blamed on foreigners, has resulted in xenophobic violence erupting in the Gauteng province, leaving at least 22 people dead.

Continue reading

Bush Seeks $770 Million More in World Food Aid
May 1, 2008, 8:09 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

The Washington Post is doing a magnificent job covering the food crisis. In fact, they have devoted an entire section of their website on the crisis.  This article from tomorrow’s paper discusses the Bush administration’s recent moves to assuage some of problems.  One can hope that this is not too late…although, no amount of aid is going to be sufficient if the underlying problems with the system are not corrected,

President Bush asked Congress yesterday to approve $770 million in new global food aid for the coming fiscal year, the centerpiece of an evolving administration response to a crisis that has sparked increased violence and hunger around the world.

Overall, he said, the United States is on track to spend nearly $5 billion on foreign food assistance in 2008 and 2009. “With the new international funding I’m announcing today, we’re sending a clear message to the world that America will lead the fight against hunger for years to come,” Bush said at the White House.

The president said he is asking Congress to include the money in a broader Iraq war funding bill for fiscal 2009 that the administration sent to Capitol Hill yesterday.

The proposal came under immediate criticism from some congressional Democrats and outside experts, who said additional money would do little to alleviate the current crisis if it is not available until the 2009 budget year, which starts in October. Bush has also requested $350 million in additional food aid as part of the 2008 supplemental Iraq war budget, an amount that top Democrats say is too little.

Continue reading

Jean Ziegler on Al-Jazeera
April 28, 2008, 10:56 am
Filed under: Food, Poverty | Tags: , , , ,

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and obviously one of foremost experts on food security offers an impassioned explanation of the crisis!

Eat Locally, Survive Globally
April 27, 2008, 4:15 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , ,

Professor Thomas S. Axworthy of Queen’s University in Ontario Canada, argues that what is needed to fight the food crisis is a return to buying locally instead of relying on big agribusiness. Here, he ties in the rising price of oil. According to him, 20% of American oil consumption is used to produce and transport food. Instead of relying on big producers, governments should encourage small farmers who produce for not only the domestic market, but for the local market. His policy prescription is intended for the Canadian government, but his ideas certainly have implications for economies around the world.

Throughout the developing world, countries are being forced to lower agricultural tariffs. While many are resisting and the current Doha Round impasse is testament to how developing countries are standing up to world powers, it should be a policy of all nations to encourage local production and consumption. Certainly big agribusiness will be hurt and they might even strike, but the survival of hundreds of millions of people in desperate poverty depends on this sort of agricultural policy.

His opine was published in the Toronto Star.

Our mothers always told us to eat our greens. Today, the injunction should be to eat green.

Eating is many things – a necessity, a pleasure, part of our culture – but it is also an environmental act.

Industrial agriculture, the current structure of the North American food system, is based on low prices to farmers, high usage of chemicals and copious amounts of oil. These factors must be altered if Canada is to have plentiful, safe and nutritious food in the future.

With oil now costing $120 (U.S.) a barrel, we are entering an era of peak oil prices. Gas is approaching the record of $1.26 (Canadian.) a litre in Ontario and many forecast it will reach $1.40 by the summer. This surge in the cost of fossil fuels will have profound impacts in a host of areas, not least in the way we organize our food supply.

Strawberries in December will soon become a luxury few can afford. It takes 35 gallons of oil, or the equivalent of a barrel, to raise a steer to go to market. Twenty per cent of American petroleum is consumed in the producing and moving of food.

Michael Pollan, an award-winning journalist for The New York Times, writes that America’s “food chain is powered by fossil fuel.”

Ingeborg Boyens’ book, Another Season’s Promise, makes a similar point about Canadian farming: “The amount of energy required to produce a calorie of food is constantly increasing. At issue is not just the food required to do all the mechanical work on the farm: energy is also needed to manufacture fertilizer and chemicals at the front end of the process and to transport and refrigerate food in the final stages of its delivery to the consumer.”

Continue reading

Egypt’s Corrupt Bread Policiy
April 26, 2008, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Food, Poverty | Tags: , , ,

An engaging opine from Daanish Faruqi, a Senior Researcher, and Editor, at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo. Faruqi’s opinion about the global food crisis defers markedly from the analysis of other scholars. Rather than blaming market dynamics and speculation, the onus, according to Faruqi, is on Egypt’s bad wheat policy. This really only applies to case of Egypt where government subsidies are fueling a black market for wheat. Government run bakeries are grossly mismanaged, inefficient and corrupt, and thus, the cheap wheat, which is for the poor, is siphoned off. While a few profit, ordinary Egyptians are increasingly having to deal with less bread in their diets. It does not appear that he is arguing against subsidies but rather the mismanagement of them.

This article was originally published in Daily News Egypt.

In a country with a growing economy and record-breaking foreign investment, the idea of a food crisis seems almost obsolete. Yet, on April 6, Egyptians from all walks of life united in a general strike, in solidarity with disgruntled factory workers in Mahalla, primarily over the most basic of commodities: bread.

The Egyptian Arabic term for bread, ‘aish, or ‘life,’ makes clear the centrality of bread to Egyptian life. Egyptians are a level-headed people, but try to compromise their ‘aish and they are quick to lose their tempers.

Unsurprisingly, the strike was ultimately suppressed by riot police, stationed en masse throughout Cairo to deter any meaningful attempt at peaceful protest. Nonetheless, the fact remains that an organic national movement mobilized, in a middle-income country, to demand basic foodstuffs.

How is this possible in a country awash with foreign aid and with a steadily growing economy? Sadly, few commentators to date bothered to identify the underlying problem, focusing instead on complicated market dynamics as being responsible for the current bread crisis.

The de rigueur analysis of the issue has gone something like this: the rising costs of oil -necessary to distribute foodstuffs throughout the country – coupled with a tripling of wheat prices since last summer, have spiked bread prices in Egypt to unaffordable levels. This in turn has put a monstrous strain on Egypt’s subsidized bread market, to the point that the government-subsidized bread supply can no longer keep up with the nation’s burgeoning demand. And voila, global market forces take their toll on the Egyptian marketplace, which – bolstered by popular support for worker’s rights in Mahalla -culminates in mass protest. Nothing President Mubarak or the NDP could have foreseen, such uncontrollable global economic forces, right?

But hold on a second. This is Egypt, a country that produces enough wheat to satisfy its bread requirements for at least six months. Moreover, despite the rising global costs of wheat, Egypt has more than enough hard cash on hand to satisfy the rest of its wheat needs by purchasing it on the open market. Something else must be at stake here. There is.

Continue reading