A Looming Food Crisis

September 13, 2010


Haitians are a resilient group of people. The evidence is very much clear as it was back when I was there five years ago and, even today, as I browse the news that’s coming from the despoiled anomaly island.

As it was distinctly predicted, one of the recent earthquake’s many repercussions is already in sight. Food scarcity now leaves many in desperate situations where families are resorting to eating stored seeds to feed the unending arrivals of the estimated 500,000 people who migrated to the rural areas after the quake. When compared to two years ago, when prices had risen by 56% compared to 12 months prior, that raised the expectation of starvation and mass hunger, violent unrest had swept through Haiti and the spectre of famine soared. This predicament at this moment seems very much real again. The effects of a 30% price increased in bread last week sparked riots in Mozambique which left 13 dead.

International food prices were up 5 per cent in August, the biggest one-month increase since last November, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, which has called a one-day meeting on Sept. 24 to examine the global markets for grains and rice. European wheat prices hit more than €231 ($308 Canadian) a tonne last week, which was close to the two-year high of €236 set in August, largely because drought has hammered the crop in Russia. Corn prices are at their highest level since mid-2009. Sugar and oilseed prices are also climbing.

This all comes after the recent extension of the Russian export ban on cereals. The FAO however maintains that this is not to be held as a ‘crisis’ and attempts to pacify the threat as the it could cause unintended market overreactions, which, the FAO claims, is what drove up the prices of the last food crisis.

It seems to me that the supply side may be the culprit this time around as it was argued that the causes of the 2007-2008 food price crisis was due to unforseen changes in the demand side where population growth, shifting diets (the nutrition transition), urbanisation, unsustainable lifestyles, and increasing private investor demand contributed heavily. We are indeed about to inaugurate what Dupont and Thirwell called ‘a new era of food insecurity.’ Yet I have no fear in terms of Haiti’s withstanding yet another hardship whether natural or not.