Thursday, April 24, 2008

Food & Society Memo Global Food Crisis Special Feature: A 'Silent Tsunami' of Hunger is Sweeping Across the World's Most Desperate Nations

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Editor's Note: On Tuesday, the United Nation's World Food program held a summit on the growing world food crisis which is threatening people in the poorest and most desperate nations around the globe.

At the summit, which was hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and attended by representatives from throughout the world, the U.N World Food Program's executive director Josette Sheeran said there's a "Silent Tsunami" of hunger sweeping the world's most desperate nations. She and others at the summit said further it's the first true global food crisis since World War II.

Below is a report by David Stringer of the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday's summit in London, along with a discussion of the growing global food crisis which is hitting the world's poorest the hardest.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo will be following-up this AP report with a number of stories and pieces of a with a food and grocery industry (and society) focus regarding the global "Silent Tsunami" of hunger, along with other pieces focusing on the rising food costs in the developed world as well, and what some of the overall effects of this international food crisis are having on the poor, developing nations, consumers in the developed world, and the food and grocery industry. Stay tuned.

Silent Tsunami Of Hunger
London Summit addresses soaring cost of basic foods, which has already sparked protests
By David Stringer, Associated Press, Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ration cards. Genetically modified crops. The end of pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap supermarkets.

These possible solutions to the first global food crisis since World War II - which the U.N. World Food Program says already threatens 20 million of the poorest children - are complex and controversial. And they may not even solve the problem as demand continues to soar.

A "silent tsunami" of hunger is sweeping the world's most desperate nations, said Josette Sheeran, the food program's executive director, speaking Tuesday at a London summit on the crisis.

The skyrocketing cost of food staples, stoked by rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather and demand from India and China, has already sparked sometimes violent protests across the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks, she said. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by 83 percent in three years.

"What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent," Sheeran said.

Hosting talks with Sheeran, lawmakers and experts, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the spiraling prices threaten to plunge millions back into poverty and reverse progress on alleviating misery in the developing world.

"Tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us, and it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations," Brown said.

Malaysia's embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price increases and has launched a major rice-growing project. Indonesia's government needed to revise its annual budget to respond.

Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon and Haiti, cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said more protests in other poor nations appear likely. "We are going through a very serious crisis, and we are going to see lots of food strikes and demonstrations," Annan said in Geneva.

At restaurants in Lome, Togo, even the traditional balls of corn meal or corn dough served with vegetable soup are shrinking. Once as big as a boxer's fist, the dumplings are now the size of a tennis ball - but cost twice as much.

In Yaounde, Cameroon, civil servant Samuel Ebwelle, 51, said he fears food prices will rise further.

"We are getting to the worst period of our life," he said. "We've had to reduce the number of meals we take a day from three to two. Breakfast no longer exists on our menu."

Even if her call for $500 million in emergency funding is met, food aid programs - including work to feed 20 million poor children - will be hit this year, Sheeran said.

President Bush has released $200 million in urgent aid. Britain pledged an immediate $59.7 million Tuesday.

Even so, school feeding projects in Kenya and Cambodia have been scaled back and food aid has been cut in half in Tajikistan, Sheeran said.

Yet while angry street protesters call for immediate action, long-term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated, experts warn.

And evolving diets among burgeoning middle classes in India and China will help double the demand for food - particularly grain intensive meat and dairy products - by 2030, the World Bank says.

Robert Zoellick, the bank's head, says as many as 100 million people could be forced deeper into poverty. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rising food costs threaten to cancel strides made toward the goal of cutting world poverty in half by 2015.

"Now is not too soon to be thinking about the longer-term solutions," said Alex Evans, a former adviser to Britain's Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

He said world leaders must help increase food production, rethink their push on biofuels - which many blame for pushing up food prices - and consider anew the once taboo topic of growing genetically modified crops.

The will to increase food production exists, as do most of the necessary skills, but there are major obstacles, including a lack of government investment in agriculture and - in Africa particularly - a scarcity of fertilizers, good irrigation and access to markets.

Sheeran said developing world governments, particularly in Africa, will need to dedicate at least 10 percent of future budgets to agriculture to boost global production.

Many analysts, including Britain's opposition leader David Cameron, say people in the West will need to eat less meat - and consume, or waste, less food in general. Some expect the shift in attitudes to herald the end of supermarket giveaways and cost-cutting grocery stores that stack goods to the ceiling and sell in bulk.

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