By Rabindra Rooplall
World population growth, which peaked at two percent per year around 1970, dropped below 1.2 percent per year last year. But because the world population has nearly doubled since 1970, we are still adding 80 million people each year. This means that there will be 219,000 additional mouths to feed at the dinner table, each day, according to recent statistics.
CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) has recommended that the regional bloc’s Secretariat form alliances that could enhance its capacity to forecast the effects of rising food and fuel prices upon the region.
However, statistics also reveal that many persons will be greeted with empty plates, since another 219,000 mouths will join us tomorrow night. At some point, this relentless growth begins to tax both the skills of farmers and the limits of the earth’s land and water resources.
Statistics further reveal that there are now some three billion people moving up the food chain, eating greater quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products.
It is noted that the rise in meat, milk, and egg consumption is fast-growing in developing countries. And the total meat consumption in China today is already nearly doubled that in the United States.
The sharp rise in food prices has sparked fears of a global food shortage. The Food and Agriculture Organization had announced that food prices had hit an all-time high, and the World Bank stated that 44 million more had fallen into hunger due to food prices. Spreading unrest in the Middle East fueled partly by skyrocketing food prices adds urgency to the gathering crisis.
Some inflation hawks suggest a hike in interest rates, despite high unemployment, because rising commodity prices might spark inflation.
Whether these fears come true or not, a complex array of global forces shaping the next decade may make current problems seem easy. First, production is up. From 2006/07 to 2010/11, the US Department of Agriculture estimates total production of rice, wheat, corn, soya and other coarse grains and oilseeds rose from 1.78 to 1.96 billion tons, an increase of 10 percent.
Demand for meat is growing in many developing nations, and this implies more demand for grains and oilseeds. Since a pound of packaged beef contains up to five pounds of grain, further increases in grain prices would push meat prices higher, eventually depressing consumption.
Per-capita meat consumption could be reduced with a net positive impact on health, so that part of demand adjustment is not all bad.
Global food prices hovered near record highs in April last as a rise in cereals prices was offset by declines in sugar and rice, and the United Nations’ food body warned weather problems in the world’s top grain exporters could keep prices high next year as well.
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s food-price index, which tracks a basket of commodity prices, averaged 232 points in April. Little has changed from March but it is still 36 per cent higher than the same time the year before.
The index hit 236 points in February, the record high in real and nominal terms since the FAO started monitoring prices in 1990.
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) released its global food price index data earlier this month showing what happened in April. Last month there had been a glimmer of hope that the upward price trend was reversing, but as many predicted that was not a trend that continued.
Dairy, oil and sugar prices on the international markets did continue down a bit, but meat and cereals prices continued to rise as did the overall index. The biggest increase was cereals (5.5% April over March).
Even without a crisis, the number of undernourished people in the world will rise this year from 925 million in 2010 as food costs gain, experts say.
Food output will have to climb by 70 percent between 2010 and 2050 as the world population swells to 9 billion and rising incomes boost meat and dairy consumption, the FAO forecasts.
Countries probably spent at least $1 trillion on food imports in 2010, with the poorest paying as much as 20 percent more than in 2009, the UN has said.
Two-thirds of the world’s hungry is “largely reliant” on rice as a staple; according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
As prices began to spike in late 2010, many observers raised the alarm that high prices are often followed by moments of violence and political uncertainty.
Never accept statistics about global poverty at face value and always remember that each household behind the figures has its own human story to tell. Whatever the difference of opinion on the extent of global poverty, one thing is certain: a significant proportion of the world’s population is excluded from our prevailing economic system of wealth creation. The symptoms of its inherent instability – recession, volatile food and fuel prices, and climate change – impact disproportionately on the poor.
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