April 22, 2008

Balance Your Food Intake...and Walk

Here is another example of how industrialization may not have been the great, universal boon to mankind. While we burn gas to get a soda, these people are eating dirt. But the old ways can be used with better science and application to create new solutions. There's hope.
ARIANA CUBILLOS/AP PHOTODemonstrator eats grass in front of a U.N. peacekeeper at a food riot April 8, 2008 in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince -- Ariana Cubillos/AP Photo
Let them eat dirt?

Soaring food prices are causing riots in many poor nations. The good news is that there are solutions if the West can muster the political will
April 20, 2008
Business Columnist
It would be inhuman to understate the global food crisis.
With food prices up as much as 45 per cent since the end of 2006, El Salvador's poor eat about half as much food as they did a year ago. In Haiti, a destitute population is turning increasingly to mud patties made of dirt, oil and sugar, which at least quieten the stomach.
[...] For the estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide who live on just $1 to $2 (U.S.) per day, today's severe food inflation means forsaking health care, withdrawing children from school, cutting meat and vegetables from one's diet, and subsisting on cereals alone.
[...] "World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period," Joachim von Braun, head of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute told The Economist, after G8 finance ministers ended their summit last weekend declaring that global hunger had eclipsed in importance the worldwide credit and climate-change crises they had gathered to discuss.
There is a consensus among agricultural economists that a 30-year era of cheap food is over.
In contrast to the localized food shortages of recent decades, caused by weather- or war-related crop failures and supply disruptions, this crisis is marked by shortages of affordable food in scores of nations simultaneously. And this debacle is not tied mostly to floods or civil wars. Instead, it arises from a variety of factors, ranging from food-demand growth in super-charged economies in the developing world, soaring energy, transportation, fertilizer and other farm costs, and the diversion of corn to biofuels production – a new phenomenon described by one international food-aid expert as "a crime against humanity."
[...] And there may be at least some transitory factors at play, such as the prolonged drought in Australia and crop failures in Tanzania, along with suspicions that speculators have fled the crippled financial sector to manipulate prices of agricultural and other commodities for gain.
[...] It must seem, with global warming, international terrorism, soaring energy costs and a worldwide credit crisis, that the world at the dawn of the 21st century faces more than its share of larger-than-life spectres. Yet in the current food crisis, it becomes plain how these challenges are related and ultimately curable.
[...] The biggest single boost to incomes in the developing world, as foreign-aid experts have long argued, would be less emphasis on grants and loans to poor countries, and instead the removal of Western subsidies and tariffs that block food imports from Africa, Asia and Latin America. More prosperous farming in troubled parts of the world still heavily reliant on farm incomes would curb social unrest and the export of violence.
That might seem an idealist vision. But there is no compelling alternative.
In a join-the-dots exercise, it's not difficult to see how paying Nebraska farmers not to produce while denying Mexican maize producers access to the U.S. and French markets discourages developing-world farmers from acquiring the means to boost their production capacity, creating first resentment and ultimately food shortages. That this should coincide with unprecedented soaring costs for fuel and other essentials was unforeseen. But the outlines of the current catastrophe were long evident.
Today's rampant food-price inflation is yet more evidence that the world's ills are interconnected and leave no part of the planet untouched. Seen as a communal project to lift world incomes through meaningful reform in global agricultural policy, rather than as another necessary exercise in passing the begging bowl on behalf of "failed" nations, the food-inflation crisis is an undisguised opportunity to make the world a more prosperous and thus safer place.
And no one should have to eat dirt.

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