18 Jan 2011

Food prices rocketing

I've just watched the film The Battle of Seattle on iPlayer after a meeting was cancelled this evening. Made in 2007 the film depicts the historic protest in 1999 in Seattle, where thousands of activists protest the World Trade Organisation conference - worth a watch as it shows those activists trying to get a non-violent message over about the damage the WTO does.

And talking of non-violent - interestingly Monbiot just wrote an article today in The Guardian regarding the recent revelations about police infiltration into environmental groups - he writes: "I searched all the literature I could lay hands on, and couldn’t find a single proven instance of a planned attempt in the UK to harm people in the cause of defending the environment. (That’s in sharp contrast to animal rights campaigning, where there has been plenty of violence). No one has yet produced a factual challenge to that conclusion. Yet every year a shadowy body spends most of its £5m budget on countering a non-existent threat that officers call eco-terrorism."

But that wasn't what I was going to write about....it was two years ago the world faced a food crisis - over 30 countries saw food related riots (see blog at the time here). Very worryingly it looks like we could be heading for similar troubles...the UN has just said that global food prices hit a record high last month. The developing world, as always, will be hit very much harder - but it will of course lead to a jump in food prices in this country - made worse by the recent VAT rise.

Food security is a big issue - one that the coming Stroud Potato Day on 5th February wants to highlight - see here. Food price rises are complex - oil price rising as fossil fuel production peaks, the changing climate, biofuel cultivation replacing food crops, demand increases from countries like China and India and the role of food commodity derivatives in destabilising and driving up food prices. See WDM report about how banking speculation causes the food crisis here.

OK we probably wont get much of that message over on Potato Day but already I've had all sorts of conversations with people in connection with the day. We need more 'Dig for Victory' campaigns - see previous blog here. We could significantly reduced the amount of food imported if we could really make this revolution of growing more food locally happen.

Anyway The Independent covered the price rises - see here. They note: "Global food prices have risen for the sixth month in succession. Wheat has almost doubled since June, sugar is at a 30-year high, and pork is up by a quarter since the beginning of 2010. The trends have already affected the UK where the jump in food prices in November was the highest since 1976. Meat and poultry were up 1 per cent and fruit by 7.5 per cent in one month."

The British Retail Consortium show that food prices are continuing to rise at double the pace of wages. Annual food inflation in December was 4 per cent compared to a rise of 2 per cent in incomes last year. This means a family spending £100 a week on food a year ago will have to find an extra £208 a year to put meals on the table. Petrol prices are also running around 20 per cent higher than a year ago, while rail fares have also increased . See more here re price rises.

Countries that are poor and produce relatively little of their own food are most vulnerable to the food price shock – Bangladesh, Morocco and Nigeria top the "at risk" list, according to research by Nomura economists, who also identify growing shortages of water as a critical factor restraining any growth in agricultural productivity.

'When Will the Food Bubble Burst?' asks Lester R. Brown - see article here - he writes: "Over the last few decades we have created a food production bubble -- one based on environmental trends that cannot be sustained, including overpumping aquifers, overplowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. If we cannot reverse these trends, economic decline is inevitable. No civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support systems. Nor will ours....

"The danger signs are everywhere. In the summer of 2010, record high temperatures scorched Moscow from late June through mid-August. Western Russia was so hot and dry in early August that 300 to 400 new fires were starting every day.
Over 56,000 people died in the extreme heat. Russia’s 140 million people were in shock, traumatized by what was happening to them and their country. The record heat shrank Russia’s grain harvest from roughly 100 million tons to 60 million tons. This 40-percent drop and the associated grain export ban helped drive world wheat prices up 60 percent in two months, raising bread prices worldwide."

A bleak picture. Is it now our chance to redefine security? Can we find a better way? Sadly the rich nations are still using the WTO to target developing countries - while the WTO at least acknowledge the food crisis, they are still part of the problem - see WDM's view on the November talks - and are not part of creating a fairer world for all. But hey time for bed and this was a bit of a waffle...


Philip Booth said...

Great to see a Tory MP taking this issue more seriously:

Anonymous said...

For those interested - We are planning to have a joint WDM/Green Party Coffee House Discussion covering World food prospects, food speculation and land grabbing in the global south on 25 March at Star Anise Cafe 7.30-9.30pm. We have an interesting speaker from WDM. All Welcome

Philip Booth said...

See 'The world is one poor harvest away from chaos':