(Updated Sept. 8) Raj Patel: Food rebellion -- Mozambicans know which way the wind blows

Democracy Now! on September 8 spoke to Raj Patel about the protests in Mozambique and the floods in Pakistan. Click HERE for the full transcript.
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* * *STOP PRESS: Price rises reversed* * *

September 7, 2010 -- MOZAMBIQUE News reports & clippings mailing list -- Price rises which triggered the riots last week have been reversed, the government announced September 7 after an emergency cabinet meeting. Wheat will be subsidised to bring bread prices back to what they were before the demonstartion that befan on September 1. Prices had gone up by 18% to 33%. Small loaves rose from 4.5 to 5.5 meticais (12 US cents to 15¢) and rolls from 1.5 to 2 meticais (4¢ to 6¢). The government also reversed the electricity and water prices rises on “social tariffs” for small consumers. Electricity consumers who use less than 100 kilowatt-hours a month will not pay more. For those who use between 100 and 300 kilowatt-hours a month, the price increase is reduced from 13.4% to 7%. Richer consumers, who used more than 300 kilowatt-hours a month, will pay the full increase. Households that use less than five cubic metres of water a month will continue to pay 150 meticais a month. Prices for urban electricity and water connections have also been cut. The price of low grade rice will be cut by 7.5% by removing an import duty. The surtax on imported sugar will be also temporarily removed. Subsidies for urban passenger transport will be “maintained and guaranteed”. The government also announced austerity measures, including a freeze on wages and allowances of all senior state figures (who include members of the government itself) and all members of the boards of public companies and companies where the state is the major shareholder. These wages must be paid in meticais, and not in foreign currency. The government also promises to rationalise its own expenditure on air travel (particularly in business class), fuel, lubricants and communications.

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By Raj Patel

September 4, 2010 -- It has been a summer of record temperatures – Japan had its hottest summer on record.[1] Same with south Florida and New York.[2] Meanwhile, Pakistan and Niger are flooded, and the eastern US is mopping up after Hurricane Earl. None of these individual events can definitively be attributed to global warming, as any climatologist will tell you. But to see how climate change will play out in the 21st century, you needn’t look to the Met Office. Look instead to the deaths and burning tyres in Mozambique’s early September "food riots" to see what happens when extreme natural phenomena interact with our unjust social and economic systems [see report below].

The immediate causes of the protests and in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and Chimoio about 500 miles north, are a 30% price increase for bread, compounding a recent double-digit increase for water and energy.[3] When nearly three-quarters of the household budget is spent on food, that’s a hike few Mozambicans can afford. So far, the death toll hovers around 10, including two children. The police claim that they had to use live ammunition against protesters because "they ran out of rubber bullets".[4]

Deeper reasons for Mozambique’s price hike can be found a continent away. Wheat prices have soared on global markets over the summer in large part because Russia, the world’s third-largest exporter, has suffered catastrophic fires in its main production areas. These blazes, in turn, find their origin both in poor fire-fighting infrastructure and Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century.[5] On September 2, Vladimir Putin extended an export ban in response to a new wave of wildfires in its grain belt, sending further signals to the markets that Russian wheat wouldn’t be available outside the country.[6] With Mozambique importing more than 60% of the wheat its people needs, the country has been held hostage by international markets.[7]

This may sound familiar. In 2008, the prices of oil, wheat, corn and rice peaked on international markets – corn prices almost tripled between 2005-8.[8] In the process, dozens of food-importing countries experienced food riots, one of which claimed the political scalp of Haiti’s Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.[9]

Behind the 2008 protests were, first, natural events that looked like an excerpt from the meteorological section of the Book of Revelations–drought in Australia, crop disease in central Asia, floods in South East Asia. These were compounded by the social systems through which their effects were felt. Oil prices were sky high, which meant higher transport costs and fossil-fuel-based fertiliser prices. Biofuel policy, particularly in the US, shifted land and crops from food into ethanol production, diverting food from stomachs to fuel tanks. Longer term trends in population growth and meat consumption in developing countries also added to the stress. Financial speculators piled into food commodities, driving prices yet further beyond the reach of the poor. Finally, some retailers used the opportunity to raise prices still further, and while commodity prices have fallen back to pre-crisis levels, most of us have yet to see the savings at the checkout.

So, is this 2008 all over again? The weather has gone wild, meat prices have hit a 20-year high, groceries are being looted, and heads of state are urging calm. The general view from commodities desks, however, is that we’re not in quite as dire straits as two years ago. Fuel is relatively cheap and grain stores well stocked. We’re still on track for the third-highest wheat crop ever, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),[10] so even without Russian wheat, there’s no need to panic.


While all this is true, it misses the point: for most hungry people 2008 isn’t over. The events of 2007-8 tipped more than 100 million people into hunger, and the global recession has meant that they have stayed there. In 2006, the number of undernourished people was 854 million.[11] In 2009, it was 1.02 billion – the highest levels since records began. The hungry aren’t simply in Africa. According to one survey, over Christmas 2009 in the United States, 57 million people weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from.[12] Among those hardest hit by these price rises, in the US and around the world, were female-headed households.[13] The relations and structures of power that produce gender aren’t exempt from the weather, after all.[14] That’s why 60% of those going hungry are women or girls.[15]

Not only are the hungry still around, but food riots have continued. In India, double-digit food price inflation was met by violent street protests at the end of 2009. The price rises were, again, the result of both extreme and unpredictable monsoons in 2009, and an increasingly faulty social safety net to prevent hunger.[16] There have been frequent public protests about the price of wheat in Egypt this year, and both Serbia and Pakistan have seen protests too.

Although commodity prices fell after 2008, the food system’s architecture has remained largely the same over the past two decades. Bill Clinton has recently offered several mea culpas for the international trade and development policies that spawned the food crisis. Earlier this year, he blamed himself for Haiti’s vulnerability to international price fluctuations. “I did that”, he said in testimony to the US Senate. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.”[17] More generally, Clinton suggested in 2008 that “food is not a commodity like others… it is crazy for us to think we can develop a lot of these countries [by] treating food like it was a color television set.”[18]

Yet global commodity speculators continue to treat food as if it were the same as television sets, with little end in sight to what the World Development Movement has called “gambling on hunger in financial markets”. The recent US Wall Street Reform Act contained some measures that might curb these speculative activities, but their full scope has yet to be clarified. Europe doesn’t have a mechanism to regulate these kinds of speculative trades at all.[19] Agriculture in the global South is still subject to the "Washington Consensus" model, driven by markets and with governments taking a back seat to the private sector. And the only reason biofuels aren’t more prominent is that the oil they’re designed to replace is currently cheap.

Clearly, neither grain speculation, nor forcing countries to rely on international markets for food, nor encouraging the use of agricultural resources for fuel instead of nourishment are natural phenomena. These are eminently political decisions, taken and enforced not only by Bill Clinton, but legions of largely unaccountable international development professionals. The consequences of these decisions are ones with which people in the global South live everyday. Which brings us back to Mozambique.


Recall that Mozambique’s street protests coincided not only with a rise in the price of bread, but with electricity and water price hikes too. In an interview with Portugal’s Lusa News, Alice Mabota of the Mozambican League of Human Rights didn’t use the term "food riots". The protests are far more subtle and politically nuanced. In her words, “The government … can’t understand or doesn’t want to understand that this is a protest against the higher cost of living.” The action on the streets isn’t simply a protest about food, but a wider and more political act of rebellion. Half of Mozambique’s poor already suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the FAO.[20] The extreme weather behind the grain fires in Russia transformed a political context in which citizens were increasingly angry and frustrated with their own governments. Although it’s hard to read it outside the country, that’s a story well known within countries experiencing these food rebellions.

Yesterday, I reached Diamantino Nhampossa, the coordinator of the União Nacional de Camponeses Moçambique – the Mozambican National Peasants Union. “These protests are going to end”, he told me. “But they will always come back. This is the gift that the development model we are following has to offer.” Like many Mozambicans, he knows full well which way the wind blows.

[This article first appeared at Raj Patel's website. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with his permission. A version of this article also appeared in the Observer, September 5, 2010. Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University, has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world. He’s currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First. He has testified about the causes of the global food crisis to the US House Financial Services Committee and is an advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In addition to numerous scholarly publications, he regularly writes for the British Guardian, and has contributed to the LA Times, NYTimes.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mail on Sunday and the Observer. His first book was Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller. ]


[1] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jejeLCKDLGD9Ael1Wdi-AIQQf4sw

[2] http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/its-official-hottest-summer-ever/

[3] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gJ6PTteGMk_JCbJrgfRnFeBLHtWA AFP puts it at 17% – the Guardian at 30%, as do most other news sources.

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/02/mozambique-bread-riots-looters-dead

[5] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/47086656-9d75-11df-a37c-00144feab49a.html and http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f61cbbd8-a225-11df-a056-00144feabdc0.html

[6] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5f6f94ac-b6bc-11df-b3dd-00144feabdc0.html

[7] My calculations using FAOSTAT for 2007 suggests Mozambique imports 64.4%, but the Independent has the figure at 70%, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/now-meat-price-surge-raises-fear-of-food-inflation-2069227.html

[8] http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/gdsmdpg2420093_en.pdf

[9] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1228245020080412

[10] http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Financial/Wheat-volatility-leads-to-surge-in-global-food-prices-finds-FAO

[11] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[12] http://www.frac.org/pdf/food_hardship_report_2010.pdf

[13] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[14] http://www.unifem.org/partnerships/climate_change/facts_figures.php

[15] http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats?gclid=CLazjMb47aMCFSFugwod5A8H1A

[16] http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/business/18-india-faces-food-price-discontent-violent-protests-am-06

[17] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/clinton_rice

[18] http://www.fao.org/news/story/0/item/8106/icode/en/

[19] http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf

[20] http://typo3.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ess/documents/Media_and_Communication/MZB_20100823_OPais_scan.pdf

13 dead, 300 injured, 224 arrested

By Joe Hanlon

September 7, 2010 -- MOZAMBIQUE News reports & clippings mailing list -- Thirteen dead, at least 300 injured, and 224 arrested is the toll of three days of demonstrations against prices rises and the high cost of living. The main protests were in Maputo and the adjoining city of Matola, with both cities paralysed on September 1 and 2 and only slightly functioning on September 3. Activity returned to normal on September 4 .

In Maputo and Matola young people coordinated by mobile telephone text message (SMS) blocked all main roads with burning tyres and other barriers on September 1. There was also some looting of shops and market stalls, and cars and buses were attacked.

There were also disturbances in the Beira corridor (Beira, Chimoio, Gondola and Vila Manica). In Chimoio the main road was blocked and part of a market looted and burned; demonstrations continued through September 3.

Soldiers and police were still on the streets on September 6. Offices were open but Noticias reported that public transport was still limited, with many private minibuses (chapas) not running. The free newspaper @Verdade on its website (verdade.co.mz) and Carlos Serra on his blog report that it was impossible to send text messages with either mobile telephone company.

Health minister Ivo Garrido announced the 13 deaths in Maputo and Matola. Noticias reported more than 290 injuries and 150 arrests in Maputo and Matola, and six injuries and 68 arrests in Chimoio and Manica. MediaFax and WampulaFax reported the six people were arrested in Nampula for trying to organise demonstrations.

Police spokesperson Pedro Cossa said repeatedly that the police were only using rubber bullets and not live ammunition, but this has been widely contradicted by the media and observers. The government newspaper Noticias quoted Natércia Duarte, clinical director of Hospital Geral José Macamo in Maputo, saying that 43 of those admitted had been shot by firearms. Garrido in an interview with O Pais published September 3 said some of those in the Maputo Central Hospital had been shot. Noticias reported that two of the injured in Chimoio were children shot by police in the Francisco Manyanga neighbourhood.

@Verdade on September 3 carried a photograph of the body of Helio, an 11-year old schoolboy, who it said was shot in the head by police September 1 on Avenida Acordos de Lusaka in Maputo as he returned from school.

A video has been posted on YouTube which appears to show someone shooting from the first floor of a Frelimo building on Av de Angola in Maputo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw7XLeuu72U

Detailed coverage of the demonstrations, in Portuguese, is available on the O Pais website (www.opais.co.mz) with pictures, and on the blog Diário de um sociólogo by Carlos Serra (http://www.oficinadesociologia.blogspot.com). There are also photos on http://fotos.sapo.mz/ultimos.html.

Accessing the YouTube video also gives links to other videos of the demonstrations http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw7XLeuu72U.

In a statement on September 1, President Armando Guebuza stressed that “the government is implementing an action plan to increase food production and in a general way taking actions to struggle against poverty in urban and rural areas, and has already registered progress in implementing this plan for food production as well as the supply of water and sanitation, and improving transport, communications, health and education.”

[From MOZAMBIQUE News reports & clippings mailing list, edited by Joe hanlon. Subscribe at http://tinyurl.com/mz-en-sub.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 09/07/2010 - 23:48


Another journalist wrote and asked these three questions:

1- How deep is the Mozambican economic crisis?

 a) is just fuel and food prices or is there a generalizedcrisis that will derail the development efforts? 

2- What arethe political implications of the crisis?-- 

 a) Will the President become more or lessauthoritarian in response to the crisis?  

 b) Can the opposition parties exploit thediscontent with the government's handling of the economy? 

 3- What willbe the effects on relations with foreign governments, western aid givers inparticular?

Here is my reply:

All three questions are the right ones, but none has a simple answer.

The core economic problem links to both questions 1 and 3. Mozambique is a donor darling, recieiving significantly more aid per capita than neighbouring Tanzania and Malawi (which are otherwise very similar) because it has followed so loyally the IMF/World Bank/donor neoliberal economic policy for 20 years. What is becoming clear across Africa is that policy may bring GDP growth, but it only benefits the best off, while the poor become pooer. And all the statistics for Mozambique show that. The rural income survey, on which I do a lot of work, shows that the poor half of the rural population have been getting poorer throughout the first decade of the 2000s. Other surveys, including still unpublished National Expenditure Survey, show a sharp increase in urban poverty, particularly in Maputo.

So it is only an "economic crisis" for poor people, but after 20 years of these policies, is there anyone in government or the donor community who can think of alternatives? (A problem, I note, which we also have in the UK).

The problem has been compounded by three other factors:

1. For nearly a decade, the government kept the metical stable against the Rand and Dollar, which meant that imported food from South Africa was stable in price. The donor-government free market economic policy (only poor countries are not allowed to subsidise agriculture) meant no development of local agriculture, so high and unnecessary food imports. The last six months have seen a 25% devaluation against the Rand, which pushes up prices on a lot of items for the Maputo poor.

I would say this is key -- an IMF-donor policy which did not support agriculture compounded with a devaluation which increased the price of imported food that under alternative policies not allowed by donors could have been grown locally.

2. Global food and especially wheat prices. (directly links to point above)

3. Rise of fuel, electricity and water prices.

So the question for Mozambique and donors is what kind of economic policy changes can be made and will be allowed, when the IMF (in particular) and many donors are still clinging to failed neo-liberal strict-free-market policies. This will not be an issue of confrontation, but rather of much head scratching. Donors will try to blame Frelimo. But the problem is really a two-decade consensus policy which deepens poverty.

2a. I do not expect any change. The view will surely be that the party is getting through this crisis without any real problems. But it does expose a deeper question -- can Frelimo be more open to a young generation, who are more concerned about poverty and jobs. The real debate will be inside Frelimo, and this could have an influence on the choice of a successor to Guebuza. Will Frelimo choose someone from the younger generation who can pull back from the neo-liberal free market policies, and adopt the sorts of pro-growth and pro-agriculture policies now being followed in Malawi and Rwanda? (Important: not statist or socialist, but recognise that rather than leaving everything to the free market, the state must actively intervene to support the private sector -- as Europe learned with the Common Agricultural Policy, which made Europe self-sufficient in food after the 2nd World War.)

2b. Renamo is a spent force, which cannot take advantage of anything. MDM could take advantage of it but won't, because Daviz Simango is actually to the far right on economic issues, and thus would not shift from the total free market policies which have caused the problem. The media could take a lead, but has grown up in the past two decades under this economic policy and really has no one with the expertise and knowledge to challenge.

Hope this helps.

Joe Hanlon

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 09/08/2010 - 14:07


Photo: Laura Lopez Gonzalez/IRIN
Carlos Matos, 40, works as a police officer in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO, 7 September 2010 (IRIN) - Carlos Matos, who has worked as a policeman in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, for the past 12 years, has to borrow a few dollars each month to supplement his US$52 wage.

He lives rent free in a one-roomed flat; his few possessions include an ailing television, a hot plate, a fan, and photographs of his two children (aged seven and nine) that are perched beside others, now more than decade old, taken during his time in the military.

During the recent protests in Maputo against a swathe of price increases on basic commodities and services, security forces quelled violent street clashes.

Mozambique's health minister, Ivo Garrido, told a press conference on 6 September that 13 people had died in two days of rioting the week before. More than 140 others have been arrested so far for public violence and incitement to riot.

"The government doesn't want to talk to the poor ... [when prices go up] the ones who suffer are the poor," Matos told IRIN. "If the national minimum wage was 5,000 meticais ($142) - then fine, put the prices up, but it [government] doesn't adjust it [minimum wage] when the prices go up."

Mozambique introduced a minimum monthly wage of $24 in 1996; in 2008, 11 different minimum wages were introduced, which are recalibrated each year on 1 April. in May 2010, Joseph Hanlon, of the Development Policy and Practice department at Britain's Open University, published the latest minimum wage across all sectors and observed that "Except for the financial sector, all minimum wages are lower, in dollar terms, than two years ago."

Carlos Matos monthly expenditure
Water US$11,50
Electricity US$20
Maintenance payments US$28,50
Transport, food, clothes etc. US$2,80
Total monthly debt US$10,80
Since Hanlon's figures were published they have fallen further in dollar terms with the weakening of the local currency. In the agricultural sector the minimum wage fell from $52 to $48, in mining from $74 to $68, in manufacturing from $77 to $71 and in financial services from $108 to $99 – the highest minimum wage set. Sugar workers get the lowest minimum wage, which declined from $49 to $45 in a just few months.

Shrinking incomes in Mozambique - where unemployment is officially estimated at about 21 percent, in a population of 20 million - have collided with government price increases for transportation, fuel, electricity and basic foods. Bread, a staple of the urban poor, shot up by 30 percent - a rise blamed for igniting the protests.

Inflation has also eroded spending power among the urban poor. "Since late 2008 it [the metical] has been steadily devalued against the dollar by about 10 percent per year," Hanlon said. In the second half of April 2010, the metical weakened against the dollar by seven percent.

The FRELIMO government - which has been in power since 1975 and weathered a 16-year civil war - managed to reduce inflation from 70 percent in 1994 to five percent by 1999. Since then inflation has hovered around 10 percent annually and in 2006 the currency was devalued by striking off three zeroes.

Matos has built a chicken coop under the concrete stairs of the block of flats where he lives to supplement his diet and income, most of which - $28 - is paid as maintenance for his two young children.

Staying put

He occasionally thinks about returning home to Tete Province in north-central Mozambique, where the rural economy is not so cash dependent as the urban one. "In those areas ... they have fields and can plant - what am I going to plant here [in Maputo]? Every day I have to open my wallet," he said.

''Every day I have to open my wallet''
"The people there don't have money - they may only know the small notes, 50 or 100 [meticais], they haven't seen notes of 500 or 1,000 [meticais] - but they are rich because they are farmers," he told IRIN.

"[But] why would I go back to Tete, to do what? Go and die?" Matos said. "I have a house here, I have a family now; to go back would be to start at zero."


Report can be found online at:

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 09/26/2010 - 14:44


Environmental disasters and speculative investors are to blame for volatile food commodities markets, says UN's special adviser.

John Vidal and agencies
russia wildfires
July's wildfires in Russia have led to a draconian wheat ban, pushing up prices. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

The world may be on the brink of a major new food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculators, the UN was warned today at an emergency meeting on food price inflation.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting in Rome today was called last month after a heatwave and wildfires in Russia led to a draconian wheat export ban and food riots broke out in Mozambique, killing 13 people. But UN experts heard that pension and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets may also be responsible for inflation in food prices being seen across all continents.

In a new paper released this week, Olivier De Schutter, the UN's special rapporteur on food, says that the increases in price and the volatility of food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a "speculative bubble" which he traces back to the early noughties.

"[Beginning in ]2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors," De Schutter writes. "The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold."

He continues: "A significant contributory cause of the price spike [has been] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets."

A near doubling of many staple food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and an estimated 150 million extra people going hungry. While some commodity prices have since reduced, the majority are well over 50% higher than pre-2007 figures – and are now rising quickly upwards again.

"Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds are witnessing significant price increases," said De Schutter, who spoke today at The UK Food Group's conference in London.

Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program said: "What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact."

Sergei Sukhov, from Russia's agriculture ministry, told the Associated Press during a break in the meeting in Rome that the market for grains "should be stable and predictable for all participants." He said no efforts should be spared "to the effect that the production of food be sufficient."

"The emergency UN meeting in Rome is a clear warning sign that we could be on the brink of another food price crisis unless swift action is taken. Already, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people," said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid's hunger campaigner.

An ActionAid report released last week revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450bn a year – more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One.

Food prices are rising around 15% a year in India and Nepal, and similarly in Latin America and China. US maize prices this week broke through the $5-a-bushel level for the first time since September 2008, fuelled by reports from US farmers of disappointing yields in the early stages of their harvests. The surge in the corn price also pushed up European wheat prices to a two-year high of €238 a tonne.

Elsewhere, the threat of civil unrest led Egypt this week to announce measures to increase food self-sufficiency to 70%. Partly as a result of food price rises, many middle eastern and other water-scarce countries have begun to invest heavily in farmland in Africa and elsewhere to guarantee supplies.

Although the FAO has rejected the notion of a food crisis on the scale of 2007-2008, it this week warned of greater volatility in food commodities markets in the years ahead.

At the meeting in London today, De Schutter said the only long term way to resolve the crisis would be to shift to "agro-ecological" ways of growing food. This farming, which does not depend on fossil fuels, pesticides or heavy machinery has been shown to protect soils and use less water.

"A growing number of experts are calling for a major shift in food security policies, and support the development of agroecology approaches, which have shown very promising results where implemented," he said.

Green MP Caroline Lucas called for tighter regulation of the food trade. "Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organisation," she said.

Food price graphs

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 09/26/2010 - 15:29


Written by John Berthelsen   

Friday, 24 September 2010\


ImageTwo reports demonstrate huge disparities in nutrition across the world

On the same day that the Asian Development Bank and two other organizations announced that there are 578 million hungry people in Asia, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said people in the OECD's 30 member countries are fat and getting fatter at an alarming rate.

In a graphic indication of how sharp the divide remains between the developed and developing worlds, the OECD found, 50 percent or more of the people in member countries are overweight.

The OECD study, titled Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat, says that since the 1980s, surveys in the wealthy nations have begun to record a "sharp acceleration in the rate of body mass index, which in many countries grew two to three times more rapidly than in the previous century."

"In the developed world, people per capita have greater purchasing power and their expenditure on food is a relatively smaller portion of their income," said Purushottam Mudbhary, chief of the policy assistance branch at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok in an interview. "People in the developed world can afford to buy high quality food, animal protein, various kinds of fruits, eggs, meat, milk, dairy. Also this is an issue of how much physical activity they have." (See Chart below)

The efficient distribution of food is also problematical in much of the developing world, Mudbhary said.

Before 1980, the OECD study found, adult obesity rates in the developed countries were generally well below 10 percent. But since then, rates have doubled or tripled in many countries. At the top of the list, as expected, is the United States, with 34 percent of its population considered to be obese and 68 percent overweight. Mexico has a higher number of overweight people, with 70 percent of its adult population overweight but 30 percent obese.* New Zealand and Australia are not far behind. Australia, according to the report, has been growing fatter faster than any other country in the OECD over the last two decades. The proportion of people overweight is expected to rise another 15 percent by 2020.

A healthier diet keeps the developed Asian nations at the bottom although they are still in the unhealthy zone. Japan reports that 24 percent of its people are overweight, 3 percent obese. South Korea reports 31 percent of its people are overweight, 4 percent obese.

China reports 29 percent of their population are overweight, 2 percent obese, Indonesia 26 percent overweight, 1 percent obese. India reports that 16 percent of its people are overweight, only 1 percent obese, giving some idea of the skewed nature of nutrition distribution in the country. As Asia Sentinel reported on Sept. 23, for a vast proportion of the 150 million school children in India, their primary meal is a lunch subsidized by the Indian government. Up to 70 percent of low-income adolescent girls in India suffered from anemia because blood lost during menstrual cycles meant iron wasn't being replaced. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 251 million people in India were malnourished in 2004-2006, the last year for which figures were available in a 2009 report.

China has made vast strides in cutting malnutrition, according to the same report. But still, 127 million people remained underfed during 2004-2006. Bangladesh had 46.2 million undernourished, Pakistan 36.5 million.

Accordingly, the ADB, the Food and Agriculture Administration and the International Fund for Agriculture announced they would join forces to attempt to tackle widespread hunger across Asia. Despite impressive gains, "The Asia and Pacific region is still home to some 578 million hungry people, some two-thirds of the world's hungry, so it is high time to move out of our comfort zones and forge new partnerships, collaborative arrangements, and networks with the single objective of achieving food for all," said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda.

As much as US$120 billion must be invested in primary agriculture and downstream services, the three organizations said in a combined news release, to stave off hunger.

Meanwhile, in the developed world, one of the problems is that lots of fat people don't believe they're fat, according to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll published in early September. The poll found that 30 percent of people who are overweight think they are actually of "normal" size and 70 percent of obese people say they are merely overweight. Some 39 percent of morbidly obese people think they're overweight, but not obese. Many of those polled who did feel they were heavier than they should be cited lack of adequate exercise as the main reason, overeating second.

The OECD report says obesity has become an epidemic, "the result of multiple, complex and interacting dynamics, which have progressively converged to produce lasting changes in people's lifestyles. The supply and availability of food have changed remarkably in the second half of the 20th century, in line with major changes in food production technologies and an increasing and increasingly sophisticated use of promotion and persuasion."

Decreased physical activity at work, increased participation of women in the labor force, increasing levels of stress and job insecurity, longer working hours for some jobs, have all contributed directly or indirectly to the epidemic, the report says, along with government policies including urban planning policies that have left scant opportunities for physical exercise or have contributed to the rise of slums, "deprived and segregated urban areas that provide fertile grounds for the spread of unhealthy lifestyles and ill health."

The cost to society from obesity is enormous. The obese live an average of eight to 10 years less than those who eat less. The risk of death for an overweight person of average height increases by 30 percent for every additional 15 kg of weight. Health care expenditure for the obese is at least 25 percent higher than for those of normal weight.

"In 10 European countries, the odds of disability, defined as a limitation in activities of daily living, are nearly twice as large among the obese as in normal weight persons."

The obese also suffer because they are less likely to be hired into the work force. "White women are especially disadvantaged in this respect, the report says. The obese earn up to 18 percent less than those of normal weight, they tend to miss work more often, they are less productive and they run up more disability payments.

* The story originally showed that Mexico had more overweight people than the US. But the OECD bar graph didn't compare like to like.  The organization has supplied a new, corrected graph. It appears below.