What is in this article?:
• With the 2008 food-price riots in developing nations still fresh in mind, non-governmental agency analysts are wary of where this year’s diminishing U.S. corn yields might lead.
• With much of U.S. farm country under a punishing drought — along with reports that world food prices have gone up some 6 percent in the last few weeks — corn prices have spiked.
Crises and hot-spots
On the newly-released Oxfam briefing document on six developing regions/countries — Yemen, the region of west Africa, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Brazil — and how they’re currently faring…
“We’re doing a sort of quick, short survey across our own programs. Oxfam has offices and programs in about 90 countries. So, we’re keeping an eye out across those programs on how food prices are having impacts on our programs and in the countries.
“This is a snapshot of things that are happening. Not every country is equally affected.
“In 2007/2008, rice prices were very high. Now, rice isn’t nearly as high while corn and wheat prices are much higher.
“That has different impacts depending on what each country eats. Wheat, for example, is the main staple of north Africa. Yemen is a country particularly vulnerable to rising wheat prices.
“Corn is eaten in much of Africa along with parts of South America.”
On moving from crisis to crisis and not addressing underlying causes…
“The frustration we have is we spend so much time, effort and money dealing with crises. Often, we don’t even get to middle- or long-term solutions.
“It’s especially frustrating to see ourselves on the edge of another crisis — after 2007 and 2008 — having taken so little action since.
“Because of the emergency nature of this — people literally need food urgently. You can’t ignore that and you must respond. That takes up a lot of our time, energy and money.
“At best, though, we know that is a stop-gap and we need to take bigger measures.
“In 2008/2009, there were a series of conferences around the world — big international summits in Rome, Madrid and at the G-8. Many heads of state said “we must never allow this again. We must take steps and action.” There was a sense that we’d learned our lesson.
“I’m afraid we’ll be back in the same place, saying almost the same thing this year and next. We haven’t taken those necessary steps.”
Hot-spots you’re really watching?
“The one that’s been emerging this year is the western Africa region of the Sahel — the area just south of the Sahara. That area has experienced a bad drought and is very poor. They’ve had problems in the past but this is more widespread and seems to have deepened.
“The Sahel is coming to the end of their dry season and moving into the rainy season. We’re hoping the rains might offer some relief.
“In the Horn of Africa, in the eastern part of Africa, there was a famine in Somalia in 2011. The rains haven’t been that good there. That’s led to a lot of food insecurity, still a lot of displaced people. That area has slipped from the headlines but it remains very stressed and could get worse.
“I’ve already mentioned Yemen. You tend to think of the Arabian Peninsula as very rich with oil. But there are some very poor countries and people there.
“Yemen is very poor and dependent on imported wheat. As wheat prices rise, we’re very concerned about a food crisis there. Of course, Yemen has also had a lot of conflict with Al Qaida and other conflicts there. Higher food prices are a contributing factor to the instability.
“Afghanistan is also dependent on imported wheat and has a high level of undernourished people. Access to people becomes very hard in the winter. We need to make sure there’s enough access to food there.
“Governments must respond to their people. But in 2007/2008, some of the government actions really exacerbated problems globally. When Russia and India put export restrictions on food that sort of outsourced their problems to the countries that were trying to import that food.
“We’re watching closely to see if countries like India or Russia put measures like that in place again. That’s kind of what set off panic in 2007, when countries took such measures.”