What’s Fueling the Food Crisis?
Our story today on biofuels discusses the argument that some food-based biofuels are contributing to the world food crisis. The U.N. World Food Program emphasizes that biofuels are just one of the many factors causing food prices to rise in the last few months, and over the last several years.
"It’s a confluence of so many different variables," said Jennifer Parmelee, spokeswoman for the World Food Program. Those other variables, she said, include an increase in oil prices, rising demand from a growing middle classes in countries like China and India and climate change. Those factors work together to make food more expensive to produce, reduce supply and increase demand — with the end result of higher food prices across the globe.
And biofuels may not top of the list of factors threatening world hunger. Oil prices, says Parmelee, are certainly one of the biggest problems. "Our executive director, Josette Sheeran, every morning turns back to the pages where the oil prices are," Parmelee said, because they play such a big role in dictating food prices."
The devastating rise in food prices has hit every continent, Parmelee says. Around 40 countries are being impacted, with the poorest countries hit the hardest, especially in recent months. "The impact of rising food prices has been remarkably equitable in a sense, in that it’s very global," she said. But it isn’t a new phenomenon. The world is now taking notice of an emerging food crisis due to riots breaking out around the world, but relief organizations say this has been a long time coming.
Parmelee says the World Food Program has been tackling causes of the crisis — population growth, climate change, oil prices, and the need for agricultural assistance in developing areas — for many years. She says that attention to rising food prices is well overdue:
This does not come out of the blue. Most of these trends have been happening for quite some time. What got everybody’s attention is a sudden surge of food prices that set off a ripple of riots over the world. It has kind of catapulted the issue into TV and TV news, [getting the attention of] policymakers, but the fact of the matter is that hunger has been a growing issue in our world — largely because of population growth in the poorest sectors of society.