Monday, April 28, 2008

"Predictable" food catastrophe

A Predictable Catastrophe—that is how Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has described the growing world food crisis. The combined pressures of market speculation, diversion of corn to biofuel production, pressures from a changing climate, and an increased demand for meat from rapidly developing nations all contribute to the record high prices for staples like wheat, corn, and rice.
These recent events are not written on tabula rasa. Decades of International Monetary Fund-imposed structural adjustment, which forced developing countries to drastically cut agricultural subsidies and to promote production of export crops rather than food for the domestic population, created a situation in which developing countries were particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of international trade. The current crisis (prior IntLawGrrls posts here) is also at least partly attributable to the collapse of the Doha round and the failure of the United States, European Union, and Japan to eliminate domestic subsidies for agricultural production.
Where is the outrage?
I know that sitting here in New York, awash in plenty, most of my neighbors are more interested in whether fast food companies should have to post the calorie counts for their meals than the hundreds of millions of people suffering food insecurity. From a distance, it can be hard to appreciate the enormity of this problem. But, millions of the world’s poor face hunger because they simply cannot afford to feed themselves and their families. That is inexcusable!
Biofuel production poses a particular threat to the food security of women. A recent FAO analysis reports:

Unless policies are adopted in developing countries to strengthen the participation of small farmers, especially women in biofuel production by increasing their access to land, capital and technology—gender inequalities are likely to become more marked and women’s vulnerability to hunger and poverty further exacerbated.

The report also warned about threats to biodiversity and traditional knowledge posed by the replacement of local crops with monoculture energy crop plantations.
Food riots, prompted by shortages, are perhaps the most visible sign of a food system in disarray. The FAO warns that more than 30 countries face food crises. (See post below for yet another set of concerns.)
Olivier de Schutter, the newly appointed U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, certainly has his work cut out for him.


Naomi Norberg said...

Add to this the development of burning shelled corn rather than wood. The corn apparently burns "clean," but isn't someone going hungry in the process?

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Nice post Rebecca.

I posted on this topic as well today at Ratio Juris:

Rebecca Bratspies said...

thanks for the heads up to your post Patrick.