The Strange Rise in Food Prices

Don’t you love the BBC?  I do.  The news outlet is concise and informative.  In the Business section of the BBC website this afternoon, news on the strange rise in food prices that will worsen next year.

The story: “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) twice yearly Food Outlook analysis says rising demand will absorb most of the higher output.  It says its index of food prices in May was at 232, only six points below February’s record high of 237.  The FAO says higher food prices could mean poor countries will see food import costs rise by up to 30%.  That would mean them spending 18% of their total import bills on food this year, compared with the world average of 7%.”

This is pretty shocking news, folks.

Look at this: “The FAO’s May index – which measures price changes in a range of essential foodstuffs, including cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar – was 37% higher than a year ago.”  Are wages 37% higher?

Who knows what effect the unavailability of food, due to inadequate funds, will do to poor folks, but wouldn’t you guess there’ll be a rise in civil unrest, as was seen in Tunisia in part due to price increases in food there?  A rise in diseases?  A rise in people fleeing their homes for urban centers?  A rise in crime?

One nation under arugula, indeed.

The strange part of the story is that many of the nations that will soon be hit hard by price increases are, in fact, sources of the products that are then sent away to be refined.  We’re talking cocoa, coffee, and wheat, for example.

Speaking of cocoa, a new book on the subject, Chocolate Nations, lays out what’s what.  From a review in The New Agriculturalist: “Despite its origin in Latin America and early production in the Caribbean, two thirds of chocolate now comes from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The expansion of the crop from its introduction in the late 19thcentury was unprecedented, growing from 77,000 metric tonnes in 1895 to 500,000 tonnes in 1925. Yet, although cocoa accounted for 68 per cent of exports from Ghana in 1955, the price paid to farmers was reduced by Kwame Nkrumah to fund grandiose projects costing millions. Even in 1977, farmers were receiving only £347 per tonne at a time when world prices were over £3,000 per tonne. Under Houphouet Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa producers fared far better but Boigny’s encouragement of immigrants to settle in the cocoa lands and expand production sowed the seeds of the country’s present crisis. With chapters covering fair-trade, child labour and the processing of cocoa from bean to bar,Chocolate nations presents the tragic and shocking detail behind the world’s favourite confection. Whether chocolate continues to tempt consumers’ sweet teeth will depend on the price and justice offered to growers in the future. Chocolate nations is a unique case history of one crop and two countries but touches on much that demands reordering in agricultural production, marketing and exports globally.”

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