Thursday, February 28, 2008

UN predicts food aid rationing

From the Class Warfare blog:

The Financial Times has reported that the UN's World Food Programme, charged with relieving hunger in underdeveloped countries, is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to spiralling prices.

"The World Food Programme is holding crisis talks to decide what aid to halt if new donations do not arrive in the short term.

"Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, told the Financial Times that the agency would look at 'cutting the food rations or even the number or people reached' if donors did not provide more money. 'Our ability to reach people is going down just as the needs go up,' she said.

"WFP officials hope the cuts can be avoided, but warned that the agency's budget requirements were rising by several million dollars a week because of climbing food prices."

Back in November, Josette Sheeran said (Guardian, 3rd November 2007):

"There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world's most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach."

One major factor, impacting food prices and mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is that pertaining to the growing of crops to supply the biofuels industry.

As Food First reports today on its home page.

"FACT: Ethanol is helping drive food prices out of control without lowering the price of gas – Corn planted for ethanol competes for farmland with corn for food production and with other food crops. This drives up the price of all food crops, especially those that contain corn products—which is most of our processed food. Meat is more expensive because our beef cattle eat corn, not grass. Food prices have increased by 25% over last year! Gas prices still went up by 80%..."

The insanity is that the UN is introducing rationed food aid programmes because it exists as part of a system in which the rationing of commodities is the order of the day. Indeed, rationing has been the order of the day since capitalists realised they could make huge profits by limiting supply.

Food shortages are very much rooted in a system that manipulates supply and demand to keep prices high. Stories are legion about farmers being paid to take land out of production, of governments stockpiling food, to keep prices low. I remember not so many years ago writing a lengthy letter to the local press screaming my anger at the EC's decision (back then) to destroy 3 million tons of fruit and at the cost of £52 million, because, quite simply, too much had been produced and, it if it was allowed to enter the market, prices would have crashed. And now arable is being used for the biofuel matket!

And its nothing new. This has gone on for decades. John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939), set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, highlighted the issue in California, where tens of thousands of hungry, migrating farmers and their families, encountered mountains of rotting fruit, guarded by law enforcement officers instructed to shoot anyone who dared pick so much as a decomposing apple.

Organisations like Food First (Institute for Food and Development Technology –) are clear that the world today produces enough grain alone to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. "That's enough to make most people fat!" they assert. And this estimate does not take account of many other universally eaten foods—vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Indeed, if all foods are considered together, sufficient is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day. That includes two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs. Put that on a platter in front of most people and ask term to eat it and the thought of it makes them quite nauseous. This much is asserted in a 2006 document entitled 12 Myths About Hunger.

The document further observes how "the problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most 'hungry countries' have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products."

In other words, if you're hungry in this world it is inevitably because you lack the purchasing power to buy food. The golden law of capitalism as ever comes into play – "can't pay, can't have". Poor people simply do not constitute a market; no profit can be had for them. It is far simpler, and far more lucrative, to create an artificial shortage which maintains prices at a profitable level. And with biofuel crops entering the equation of late, the problem is only exacerbated.

John Bissett