The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced that food prices reached a record high in December 2010.
FAO reported that the price for wheat, rice, sugar and other commodities will remain high or increase in price.
So far, increased food prices have:
· contributed to such turmoil in Tunisia that the nation’s president had to leave for Saudi Arabia;
· driven thousands of protestors into the streets of Amman, Jordan;
· sparked protests in Sudan; and
· caused Algeria to reduce taxes after food riots in which some people died and others were injured.
“Economists across the world are expressing concern about rising food prices,” reported the Voice of America, noting the FAO prediction of increased prices. “One reason for this is the threat of shortages caused by bad weather. Current and recent weather disasters have harmed agriculture and affected prices in several parts of the world.”
The Washington Post reported on what some nations were doing to keep food prices stable:
· Russia “banned grain exports until the end of the 2011 harvest;”
· South Korea lifted import taxes on fish; and
· Sri Lanka imposed a price ceiling on rice.
Bloomberg News said India “halted onion exports in December after prices more than doubled in a year.”
China, on the other hand, sold corn and sugar from its strategic reserves to hold down prices.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Mexican government purchased “a form of corn insurance to safeguard prices.”
The Jakarta Post said the Indonesian government was removing import taxes in January on 30 commodities, including wheat and soybeans, to ensure stable prices.
“The record rise in food prices is a grave reminder that until we act on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change, we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife’s edge of disaster,” warned Gawain Kripke, OxfamAmerica’s policy director.
According to Reuters, Worldwatch Institute warned last week that the second increase in food prices since 2008 was a “harsh reminder of the vulnerability of a world food system” in “an increasingly unstable world climate.”
Lester Brown, Worldwatch Institute founder, said, “The new reality is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos.”
Brown added that “we need to be thinking about how to stabilize climate.”
Universal Ecological Fund issued a study that said, “Increased food prices coupled with reduced food availability due to climate change would significantly exacerbate world hunger.”
The report said, “In the next decade, at least every other newborn in Africa, one in every four newborns in Asia and one in every seven newborns in Latin America and the Caribbean would be sentenced to undernourishment and malnutrition.”
Examples of food shortages resulting from extreme weather events are plentiful:
· Russia’s well-documented 2010 heat wave led to the failure of its wheat crop.
· Pakistan’s devastating 2010 flood damaged millions of acres of farmland. The British Red Cross reported that six months after the flood 4 million people are homeless and millions need emergency aid. According to Bloomberg News, Pakistan’s agricultural losses totaled almost $3 billion with the loss of 500,000 metric tons of wheat and damage to 200,000 acres of rice and sugar cane.
· Australia’s recent flooding in Queensland could drive up food prices in Australia by 30 percent, reported BBC News. An estimated 50 percent of the crops have been damaged. Queensland is one of the leading exporters of sugar cane.
· Sri Lanka’s record rainfall and floods over the past few weeks destroyed 21 percent of the nation’s rice crop.
Scientists and policy experts say climate change is driving extreme weather events – events that destroy crops. The loss of crops drives up food prices. Increased food prices cause political unrest and increased hunger.
Unless the United States joins most of the rest of the world in addressing global warming through public policy changes, then those of us in the American church, who care about the hungry, will need bigger and bigger Band-Aids to cover larger and larger natural, political and economic disasters.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.