Oxfam: 900 million face starvation worldwide

More than 900 million people in developing countries face starvation as food prices soar, a new report from Oxfam finds. Spiraling inflation in the cost of basic foods, such as rice and cereals, have pushed an extra 119 million people into hunger this year, according to the report, released to coincide with the UN International World Food Day. Oxfam’s “Double Edged Prices” report found 967 million people are now officially living below the hunger line. It found there had been a 300% rise in the cost of wheat in Somalia, a 100% increase in the price of flour, and a doubling of the cost of rice in Cambodia and the Philippines in the past year. Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking said the effects of the price rises are “devastating.” (Press Association, Oct. 15)

See our last post on peak food.

  1. somewhat outdated
    They quotes prices from 5 to 10 monthes ago. Grain futures are way down: corn (c.z08) is down about 50% since july, rice (rr.x08) about 30% since april and wheat (w.z08) about 60% since march. The price of rice did not rise as much as that of corn or wheat, which presumably explains the more moderate drop.
    I assume it takes time for these price moves to travel downstream from the global market and there are of course issues of logistics, inflation, regulations, monopolies/cartels and so on which will prevent prices from falling that much in many locales. Still, relief is on the way for (some) consumers.

    That said, they make sensible recomendations, timeless ones, which do not involve arbitrarily lowering the price of food. You definitely don’t want too many producers giving up because of low prices.

    1. Go argue with Oxfam, willya?
      They just released the report, so obviously even if grain futures are down (probably due to the drop in oil prices, in turn due to the economic downturn—not exactly good news), that hasn’t affected local prices yet. I can tell you that here in New York, the price of a bagel remains inflated by some 30 cents over what it was a year ago and shows no sign of going down. And yes, there certainly are “issues of logistics, inflation, regulations, monopolies/cartels and so on.” States Oxfam:

      Those countries that have invested in smallholder agriculture and social protection policies have proved to be more resilient to the crisis. Conversely, where countries have opened their markets too widely or too rapidly to food imports and have failed to invest robustly in their agricultural sectors, they have fared far worse.

      Input subsidies in Malawi, rural expenditure programmes in Brazil, and a parastatal marketing board in Indonesia provide examples of centrally devised agricultural and social protection policies that have cushioned these countries from the full severity of the food crisis.

      Mexico had policies in place that explicitly protected small-holders. These were dismantled in preparation for NAFTA in the early ’90s, the local ejido sector was effectively gutted as cheap agbiz corn flooded in from Gringolandia. Then these prices started rising due to the diversion of croplands to ethanol production (again due to oil shock). The local small producers were no longer there to serve as a safety net. It is such structural roots of the crisis that need to be addressed.

      1. Actually, the first Anonymous response is correct
        The report was released recently. The data in the report is older. If you actually bother to look at the data in the PDF report (I know you have to click two links and actually read a chart), it shows that the data in question is from January 2007 through April 2008, putting it several months behind. Even so, the global economy has continued to spiral downward since April, and that very likely means that the news for consumers in the countries outlined in the report has gotten worse and not better. The recent drop in the price of oil may provide some relief in pushing down grain prices, but one would imagine the global economic crisis will need to begin to clear up before true price relief will arrive, since other economic factors like the relative value of currency and unavailability of relief/donated grain and food can prevent price changes from reaching the consumer.

        1. Correct, but relevant?
          Yes, I saw the chart. My point (as I said) is that it hasn’t affected local prices yet. Dig this. I seem to go through a pound of rice per month, as I remember buying a ten-pound bag at my local grocer last December, and I just had to buy another one. Back in December, it cost me five bucks and change, as it had for several years. This week, it cost me NINE bucks and change… I call this scary.

          1. but what are you paying for?
            I figure you’re paying around 6 times the price of the wholesale, unprocessed product. Obviously the price you pay should be higher than wholesale and maybe you’re buying quality… but 6 times?
            You’re paying for the high cost of living of your grocer, for the outrageous real estate prices and so on… plus lots of profits along the supply chain I assume.

            I believe the rice I usually buy is even more expensive but it doesn’t make sense for me to waste my time hunting cheaper rice.
            Did you bother to look for cheaper rice elsewhere? If you didn’t, you’re effectively letting your grocer charge as much as you will bear. Not much of an incentive to lower his prices when the wholesale price drops…

            I can only assume most of the people spending a large share of their income on basic foodstuffs are buying cheaper rice than we do.
            Unless their rice market is insulated from the global market, they’re going to be affected by those price swings… not necessarily immediately (stocks and so on), but still.

            1. That’s the cheapest I can find
              That’s as cheap as rice gets in NYC. That’s why I buy it in ten-pound bags, that’s the economy size. I might be able to find cheaper in Chinatown, but not by much.

              1. that’s scary
                It must be a NY thing.

                I live in a high-wage country. According to the latest OECD PPP thing, it’s 1.6 times more expensive than the US. Almost all the rice we eat is imported.
                The closest shop from here (well within walking distance) is a small outlet of a somewhat pricey (and very profitable) chain store. It was built as part of a housing project. I checked their prices online (it’s closed right now of course)… the semi-economy packages are 5.5 pounders and the cheapest one costs about 2.55$ (current exchange-rate). The one I usually buy (“organic”, “fair-trade” and tastes great) would cost 6.95$ except I pay a bit more because that outlet only carries smaller packages for the fancier stuff. As it turns out, I wouldn’t need to try hard at all to save money on rice. I would be surprised if even cheaper rice wasn’t available elsewhere around here.