The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) yesterday released the bad news: food prices are the highest they’ve ever been. And they’re going to get higher.
The UN releases an annual index which calculates prices based on the current markets of 55 products worldwide, including rice, milk, wheat, sugar and cheese. This index reached an all-time high of 214.7 in December of 2010, surpassing the previous high of 213.5 set in June of 2008 when a global food crisis sparked riots in countries such as Somalia and Haiti – where the populous turned to eating mud for sustenance.
Several factors have led to the recent price spikes, including poor recent grain crops in Canada, Russia and the Ukraine; poor soybean crops due to drought in Argentina; and flooding affecting wheat crops in Australia. Corn prices have also risen, partially due to the increasing diverson of corn crops to biofuels rather than food. Prices could continue to rise, particularly after the recent flooding in Australia and its looming effect on sugar prices – already at record levels.
The increases are trickling into your pocketbooks in various ways. The cost of food items in the grocery store is increasing, whether you’re paying more for the same amount or paying the same amount for less (such as in the case of many chocolate products).
This, of course, is only a worry if you can afford to buy chocolate in the first place. Those hardest hit by the price increases are not those choosing between Dairy Milk and Crunchie; it is those who are struggling on pennies a day, for whom even the basics are out of reach. As a result, there are growing fears of social unrest as the most basic of human rights, the right to not go hungry, is denied to more and more across the world.
The UN is also warning that with the population on its way to 10 billion, food production needs to rise upwards of 70%. Is this possible? Will prices drive people to change their habits, go hungry, or pursue social change on a larger scale?
Photo By P.K.Niyogi via Wikimedia Commons