Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Oxfam got the publicity (with there report Growing a Better Future) which predicts that the prices of staple foods will more than double in 20 years unless world leaders take action to reform the global food system. By 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180%, the charity forecast with half of that increase being caused by climate change. Oxfam got the publicity but the World Bank flagged up the link between poverty and food prices back in April.

They noted that world food prices are 36% above levels of a year ago, made worse by problems in the Middle East and North Africa, and remain volatile, so said the World Bank. Rising food prices have pushed, it noted, 44 million people into poverty since last June (2010) and that a further 10% rise in food prices would push 10 million more people below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 (76p) a day. The World Bank says prices of basic commodities remain close to their 2008 peak, with the prices of wheat, maize and soya all rocketing. The only exception is rice, which has fallen slightly in price in the past year.

Food price changes (First Quarter 2010 to First Quarter 2011)

Maize 74%

Wheat 69%

Palm oil 55%

Soybeans 36%

Beef 30%

Rice -2%

Source: World Bank Development Prospects Group

The bank suggests a number of measures to help alleviate the impact of high food prices on the poor, including encouraging food-producing countries to ease export controls, and the diversion of production away from biofuels when food prices exceed certain limits.The World Bank has also suggested targeting social assistance and nutritional programmes to the poorest, better weather forecasting, more investments in agriculture, the adoption of new technologies (including rice fortification to make it more nutritious), and efforts to address climate change.

The fact that both the World Bank and Oxfam recognise that financial measures are needed to prevent poor countries being subject to food price volatility, is of significance, as it reveals the possibility of a perfect storm (a combination of peak oil and climate change). If that's not enough to worry about factor in increasing fuel prices (one of the consequences of Peak Oil) that will hit poor farmers first and hardest before it really hits the rest of us, just like climate change will.

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