In the summer of 2007, hard red wheat surpassed $6 per bushel, an all time high. Along with other staple crops, the price for this common grain, which is used for bread and flour, has continued to rise steadily over the past year. Rice prices have increased almost threefold since the beginning of 2008. Almost half of the world lives on just $2 per day, and the populations of many countries spend on average over half of their income on food. Some populations spend nearly three quarters. In modern countries we may complain about having to dig deeper into our wallets to pay a few dollars more for food and fuel, but in the rest of the world, these price increases are deadly.
John Nichols in The Nation argues that much of this crisis is due to prioritizing corporate profits over sustainable production. He says that the food crisis could have been avoided if farming industries in most countries weren't based on cash crops and high-volume exports. Nichols interviews Jim Goodman, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and advocate for farmers around the world. Goodman and many other farmers have been well aware of the problems, and Nichols states:
The only surprising thing about the global food crisis to Jim Goodman is the notion that anyone finds it surprising.
Tejas Kadia gives some important facts about food and fuel production at World Hunger Year, as well as stating a strong case against using food production for agrofuels. Kadia argues that one of the key causes of food price increases has been the recent development of fuel production techniques that involve the consumption of corn or other grains. In the past year, about a quarter of U.S. corn production has been used to produce ethanol instead of food.
According to the 2008 World Development Report, it takes more than 240 kilograms of corn - enough to feed one person for a year - to produce 100 liters of ethanol, enough to fill just one tank of an SUV.
Scott Hughes at MillionsOfMouths.com writes that the current food crisis exists not because there is a shortage of resources, but rather because those with the resources hold out for the highest bidder in the world marketplace. Those with the resources often use them for luxury purposes instead of producing food or materials that can help those in need. He says,
Firstly, we need to find a way to alleviate and hopefully eradicate poverty so that all people have enough money to buy what they need by outbidding other people who want the resources for luxuries.
Shane on DontFearTheTruth.com presents the idea that wealthier countries are purposefully preventing developing countries from industrializing in order to secure an inexpensive source of natural resources. The United States could easily afford to end world hunger by spending only one third of its military budget on the UN estimated $195 billion to end world hunger. However, many African countries actually do not want this aid, but instead desire help at a more sustainable level. He says,
Welfare only keeps people poor, and I don't think the citizens of these countries just want hand outs - they want the tools and education to make it on their own.
On top of this, wealthier countries still do not provide support to these countries to even become sustainable. Western countries don't follow their own economic advice. Shane mentions a New York Times article about an African country that ignored advice from the U.S. and World Bank, and now sells surplus food to other nations.
The US could not sustain its lifestyle if we did not import natural resources, and by keeping poor nations from industrializing, we can buy their natural resources and even claim that it helps their country....
An article in Time Magazine from 1974 entitled The World Food Crisis shows us that this is not the first time we've experienced a shortage of food. Discussions of population control and the over-consumption of different socio-economic classes were just as heated then as they are now.
Affluence, as well as population, eats into the world's food supply. As standards of living in the developed nations rise, their citizens not only waste food and feed millions of tons of it to pets, but they increasingly eat their food in forms that enormously burden the earth's agriculture. People in developing countries eat roughly 400 lbs. of grain per capita annually (barely more than the pound daily they need for survival), mostly in the form of bread or gruel; but an American consumes five times that amount, mostly in the form of grain-fed beef, pork and chicken. The industrial world's way of eating is an extremely inefficient use of resources. For every pound of beef consumed, a steer has gobbled up 20 lbs. of grain. Harvard Nutritionist Jean Mayer notes that "the same amount of food that is feeding 210 million Americans would feed 1.5 billion Chinese on an average Chinese diet."
Scientists and policy makers have identified a number of possible causes to the rising cost of food over the past few years, including environmental issues, unethical business practices, the production of cash crops and biofuels, rising oil prices, the production of luxury goods over basic foods, the distribution of resources, and more. There are too many variables to identify just one main cause of this crisis. However, most of the problems affect the entire world, yet are created mostly by industrialized nations. By looking back, we can see that society has been trying to solve these problems for years, but will likely need many years more.