From rice in Ecuador, quark in Germany to croissants in France: food prices are constantly souring up in the whole world. The poorest strata of population suffer most of all. The prosperity of the golden billion is threatened by revolts of the hungry.
Extremities of nature, topmost prices of oil, as well as rapid-growing demand in China and India are the major reasons for record high leaps in food prices. The poverty-stricken suffer not only in developing, but in developed countries as well.
Thirty-year-old Haitian worker Eugene Thermilon can no longer support his wife and four children. Prices of noodles doubled. Two corn jars were their only meal for a day. The fact that people like Thermilon cannot afford food any more oppresses Fabiola Duran Estime. The 31-year-old woman sells food, but now she has lost her clients. For she barely earns any money, her daughter can no longer attend the kindergarten, because she cannot afford the $13 monthly tuition. “This population has nothing to do but to confine themselves in food,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, economist of the UN Food and Agricultural organization (FAO). “It is a cruel, but true scenario,” he underlined.
Prices are expected to stabilize in the long term, but within the next decade prices will tend to increase, according to preliminary FAO projections. Topmost prices of oil will push up prices of everything from fertilizers to transport to food processing. Besides, in fast-growing economies like China and India the demand for meat and dairy is sky-rocketing.
In most countries staples are getting more expensive. For example, in Egypt prices of bread have risen 35 percent and prices of cooking oil have become four times more expensive.
As a result of strong protests, the government should end food subsidies and replace them with cash payouts to the needy. “The revolution of the hungry is in the offing,” said Mohammed el-Askalani of Citizens Against the High Cost of Living protest group.
In China growing prices are both a curse and a blessing. Per capita meat consumption has increased 150 percent since 1980. The price of pork has jumped 58 percent in the past year; however there are crowds of customers in the Zhou Jian every morning.
Products urge inflation
The main problem is imbalance of demand and supply, said Jing Ulrich of the US JP Morgan bank. “Demand is great, but supply is constrained. It is as plain as day.” Chinese Prime-minister Wen Jiabao called fighting inflation a high economic and political priority. In January consumer prices increased 7.1 percent. It is the highest inflation in 11 years. Profiteers boosted prices by 18.2 percent.
High prices of oil sent up not only costs of food production. It also made most countries switch to biofuel, which means rising prices of corn, sugar and soy beans for many years to come.
Japanese can feel the stiffening situation when they buy mayonnaise and miso chiefly made of soy bean paste. Both products are important culinary ingredients. Mayonnaise has risen about ten percent in two months, said cook Daishi Inoue. “If prices keep going up, we will have to raise our prices as well.”
Italians eat at least 30 kilograms of pasta per capita annually. In September middle-class citizens organized a symbolic pasta-boycott to oppose growing prices. Indeed, in the next two months prices dropped five percent.
While in past decades subsidies enabled exporting countries to hold large corn supplies, liberalization of world trade lowered these reserves considerably. Moreover, agricultural production became more responsive to market development. Prices can be also influenced by bad weather and crop failure. For instance, a drought in Australia and flooding in Argentina sent the price of butter in France soaring 37 percent from 2006 to 2007. Gourmets can feel that when they order snail dishes prepared in butter. Prices of croissants and well-known Pain au Chocolat also went up.
“We need a response on a large scale, either the regional or international level,” argued Brian Halweil of the environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute. Further still, all civilized countries are involved in world food trade. “This is a global crisis,” Halweil concluded.