On the Food Crisis
The rising price of food is in the news again. While we are fortunate enough in the West to benefit from relatively affordable food prices, the bottom billion- the poorest of the poor-are the ones who will struggle to feed themselves. Imagine spending 50 per cent of your income on something as vital to a secure and productive life as food.
The effects were apparent during my recent trip to India. In the vast square that contains the Golden Temple of Amritsar there is a lesser know but no less important institution-it’s the worlds largest Food Bank. Over 70,000 people are fed a day, using totally volunteer help. It is a visible expression of the Sikh belief that all must be treated equal, and what is more emblematic than the daily feeding of rich and poor alike in the massive dining room at the Golden Temple.
Unfortunately, that concept of sharing is not one that applies throughout the Indian sub continent of 1.3 billion people where the emerging middle class, the driver of the economic growth of the country is changing its food eating habits to consume even more and better food, thus helping to drive up prices. The food inflation trotted in the daily press on the day we left India was over 17 per cent.
But, that is only a contributing cause. The real powerful force is climate change which is substantially altering growing patterns, resulting in severe hardship for the poorest of the country. A bumper crop is anticipated this year. What about the next? As recently as 2008 the world was breaking out in violent protest over food inflation. Since then India, normally and exporter of rice, has had an export ban in place that is has only recently started to lift.
I remember so well, one of those pictures etched in the mind is of a woman from the tribal area of Udaipur standing on the porch of her one room house, young baby in arms, explaining that if the monsoon is good then there is enough corn meal to last eight months. If not they can eat for six months. Her husband leaves to work as a manual laborer to make up the difference if he can. This family is not alone, they are but one of millions.
The prime minister of India among others raised the growing food shortage at the latest G-20 meeting and there were pledges of support from the wealthy nations but as of yet, it has not been forthcoming. In the meantime, India, China, and many other emerging countries and their counterparts in the west are planning to build hundreds of coal-fired energy facilities to meet their growing needs, adding even more carbon to the air, exacerbating the climate crisis and food production.
It is a complex problem, and the feeding of the 70,000 people daily in Amritsar will hardly be enough to avoid a crisis of serious proportions, including political instability, in India and around the world if this trend continues.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.