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Why World Food Prices Once Again Hit Record High

Why World Food Prices Once Again Hit Record High

Last month, the World Bank issued a food prices report warning that food prices around the world have risen to dangerous levels, pushing tens of millions of already struggling people into extreme poverty and putting children worldwide at greater risk of malnutrition.

And last week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization confirmed that global food prices reached record highs in February, and continue to rise, with no end in sight. This follows a previous U.N. FAO report in January, when the FAO warned that food prices had been higher in 2010 than in any year since the FAO started keeping track of food costs.

What is causing these persistent price increases across the globe? A number of factors have contributed to food price inflation:

Increased Global Demand for Food

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s World Population Clock, the global population is now approaching 7 billion. As the human population increases, so, of course, does the world’s demand for food.

But perhaps more importantly, where food availability and food prices are concerned, economic and technological improvements in developing nations have created a burgeoning new global middle class, with a strong daily appetite for certain foods that were once considered a luxury for most of the world’s people.

Demand for meat and dairy products has increased dramatically over the past decade in China, India and other emerging economic leaders in Asia. And when demand for meat and milk goes up, the price of grain rises, because grain that once went to feed people gets diverted to feed farm animals instead.

Climate Change-Fueled Natural Disasters

In 2010, a record heat wave led to rampant wildfires in Russia, destroying so much of the country’s wheat crop that the government banned wheat exports in alarm. That same year, unprecedented flooding in Pakistan devastated food production nationwide. Both disasters contributed significantly to higher food prices — and both were linked by scientists to global climate change.

This year, extensive flooding and typhoon damage in Australia and crop-killing frosts in Mexico already threaten to raise the prices of everything from wheat to tomatoes.

High Oil Prices

Whenever prices for oil rise, food prices tend to rise in tandem or soon after. Part of the price of food that consumers purchase at markets and grocery stores includes the cost of transporting that food from the place it was originally grown, and the price of transportation rises with the price of fuel. Also, industrial farms often use petroleum-based fertilizers on their crops, which become more expensive when oil prices are higher. 

As protests and revolution sweep across North Africa and the Middle East, oil prices have skyrocketed on fears that oil-producing countries like Libya and Saudi Arabia might not be able to continue to provide an uninterrupted supply of fossil fuels to the rest of the world. Which brings us to another major factor currently influencing food prices…

Political Turmoil

In nations facing political crisis, food often becomes scarce due to the disruption of public services. Governments are generally responsible for overseeing imports, maintaining highways, preventing theft, etc., and when they are temporarily unable to perform those services efficiently due to conflict or changes in leadership, that can cause local food prices to rise rapidly, which in turn can lead to speculation by commodities investors that has the potential to drive up food prices worldwide.

What Ordinary People Can Do to Help Bring Down Food Prices

The continuing rise in global food prices may seem like a problem beyond the control of ordinary people, but there are some things the average consumer can do to help keep costs down.

Buy Local

Locally-produced food does not have to travel long distances from field to plate, decreasing the amount of fuel used in food transportation. Helping the food system conserve fuel in this way not only lowers the cost of food, but also helps prevent further climate change by reducing carbon emissions. 

Buy Fair Trade

When farm workers in other nations earn fair living wages and work under safe conditions, their higher quality of life empowers them to be more involved as educated citizens, promoting democracy and political stability.

Grow Your Own 

During World War II, the United States faced potential shortages of food and fuel as international trade was disrupted and the government tried to adequately supply U.S. soldiers overseas. 

In response, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged American families to start edible gardens in backyards and unused empty lots. By the end of the war, these Victory Gardens were supplying 40 percent of U.S. produce.

There is no food more local than that grown in your own yard. Home gardening is an easy, healthy, eco-friendly way to lower your own family food budget while also helping to reduce the price of food worldwide. 

Related Posts:

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Food Prices Spike Worldwide: And They’re Going Higher

The True Price of Chocolate

Read more: , , , , , , ,

Detail of photo of assorted grains by Fir0002, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.

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171 comments

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7:47AM PST on Mar 1, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

7:37PM PDT on Oct 17, 2011

Yikes. Frightening thought.

5:55AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Sorry, didn't realize my message was too long.

Here is the complete final paragraph:

Sadly, things are likely to only get worse, until a really
powerful movement to fight back ensues. Even the sensible
choices to buy locally (saving fuel costs and supporting the
struggling small farmers) are under attack. Some of you
may have read the story about the woman in California
who was arrested and jailed for having a vegetable garden
in her yard.

On a personal note, I am so frustrated and despairing
because my husband, a prolific inventor, has developed
a unique kind of solar greenhouse that could help millions
of people grow fresh food in the winter. But there is no
support to develop or distribute it - in fact we are experiencing
a struggle to protect it from corporate thieves via patenting.
The latter process is more designed to discourage lone
geniuses than take advantage of their inventions. Moreover,
everyone says, "Isn't that nice", everyone talks about the
need for "innovation", but nobody wants to be the first to
actually build and utilize.

For more on food concerns and ways to address them, see
the "Food Facts & Fantasy" booklet on my organization's
website - it can be viewed or downloaded at:
http://toxicsinfo.org/TIPS_house.htm




5:48AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

We are being carefully brainwashed to think the way
the corporations, rich and powerful want us to think.

The truth of the matter:

1. The problem is not a shortage of food, nor is it too many people.
The reasons people go hungry are affordability and distribution.

a. A vast portion of wealth is concentrated in a few hands, and
agriculture is dominated by agricorporate interests, that can raise
prices as they control more of the food supply, so more and
more people can't afford to buy food.

b. Huge sections of cropland are going to feed farm animals,
and to grow corn for Ethanol. Small farmers are driven out of
business, eliminating competition.

2. Moreover, John B is exactly right - Monsanto and its genetically
engineered juggernaut are destroying everything in its path.
This results in farmers being completely dependent on the
big M for seeds, and needing to apply more and more of the
Monsanto herbicide, RoundUp to grown anything. (Icing on
the cake - RoundUp/glyphosate is so toxic rats don't want
to eat it, and it is known to cause all kinds of serious health
conditions).

3. We are told that organic farming can't feed the world.
On the contrary, independent researchers have shown
that it certainly can do so.

Sadly, things are likely to only get worse, until a really
powerful movement to fight back ensues. Even the sensible
choices to buy locally (saving fuel costs and supporting the
struggling small farmers) are under a

5:04AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

@ John B Wrong. Several posters recognize that population increase coupled with environmental degredation has replaced agricultural land with developments in a world that is not large enough to sustain the doubling of the world’s population every few years. Incredible but true that there are still many people that claim that “there is lots of food for everyone but the problem is distribution”and “the more , the merrier”.. I think this is more wilful blindness than the apparent first choice, self destructive stupidity.

11:23AM PDT on Jun 4, 2011

Where will all this end?

3:57AM PDT on Apr 3, 2011

Not good news!!

3:56AM PDT on Apr 3, 2011

Thanks for sharing!!

9:17AM PDT on Mar 26, 2011

this stinks.... but thank you for sharing it is important info

5:12AM PDT on Mar 26, 2011

scary

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