Monday, January 10, 2011

Experts warn of more riots over high food prices

Food prices are at historic highs, yet the world is producing more food than ever before. A growing percentage of food is used for animal feed or for fueling care, with less going to hungry humans. Some experts warn that riots will occur again this year over the escalating food prices.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Thalif Deen receives this explanation of the problem.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned last week that world market prices for rice, wheat, sugar, barley and meat will remain high or register significant rises in 2011 - perhaps replicating the crisis of 2007-2008.

Rob Vos, director of development policy and analysis at the U.N.'s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told IPS that higher food prices are already affecting many developing countries.

He said countries like India and a number of other East and South Asian countries are facing double-digit inflation, mainly caused by higher food prices - alongside higher energy prices.

In Bolivia, the higher prices for food in world markets recently forced the government to reduce consumer subsidies as these were running up the fiscal deficit too high.

The short-term implications are not only that the poor are especially heavily affected - and that more people could be pushed into poverty - but also that it will hamper the recovery in the countries facing higher inflation as consumers lose purchasing power, he noted.

Some central banks are moving to tighten monetary policy and governments are being forced to tighten fiscal policy, said Vos, who is also the U.N.'s chief economist.

Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the San Francisco- based Oakland Institute, told IPS that as early as last September, Mozambique experienced food riots over high bread prices.

Some 13 people were killed during a protest against the unaffordable price of bread, he told IPS.

"Food riots and civil unrest affected some 30 countries in 2008, and this can be repeated today since the situation has not changed in the last three years," said Mousseau, author of 'The High Food Price Challenge: A Review of Responses to Combat Hunger.' The most vulnerable countries are those which are the most dependent on food imports and the least able to handle high prices in international markets through public mechanism and public policy, he noted.

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