Opinion: Prosperity′s High Price | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.04.2008
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Opinion: Prosperity's High Price

Increasing food prices mean many are going hungry. While poor countries need food aid, they also need jobs and fair trade, said Deutsche Welle's Karl Zawadzky.


While people in wealthy countries worry about how they will fill their cars with gas in the future, people in poor countries increasingly face the problem of how to fill their stomachs. Yes, the increasing use of food for biofuel is one reason for the acute food crisis, but not the only one.

Take population growth, for example, which means an additional 80 million people to feed each year. By the year 2050 the world population is expected to increase by half the current amount, reaching nine billion people. Over 90 percent of these new arrivals will be born in developing countries, where already today 850 million people don't have enough to eat; each day umpteen thousands die of hunger.

Karl Zawadzky

Karl Zawadzky

It doesn't have to be this way. The causes of the food crisis lie – apart from natural catastrophes – in political, economic and social mistakes. The earth is fertile enough to feed considerably more than the current existing population.

"The problem is not so much a lack of food as a lack of political will," the United Nations' food organization said 20 years ago. This is no different today.

One-fifth of people survive on less than one dollar per day. It is these people that go to bed with empty stomachs.

Hunger decreases whenever there is across-the-board employment, which brings with it purchasing power. Creating employment opportunities and income are the most important measures that can be undertaken to solve the hunger problem. While this is true, it's only a part of the picture.

The current food crisis, which has caused an increase in hunger in many countries as well as brought about the collapse of the government in Haiti, has to do with the global inflation of food prices and also the flow of trade. Emerging markets have more purchasing power and increasing demand which have to be served by increasing food imports. Yet land used for farming agricultural commodities is being converted into producing biofuel.

This has resulted in already poor developing countries spending a quarter more for food imports than in the previous year. The price of corn has doubled in the past two years and has caused a tortilla crisis in Mexico. Flour is more expensive and scarce than it has been in the past three decades. The price of rice has nearly doubled in the past two years.

While food price increases are noticeable in industrial countries, for the poor in this world they have deadly consequences. In the long term, the price increases could be advantageous for poor countries. But in order for this to happen, industrial countries would need to end their disastrous agricultural protectionism and open their markets for imports from the Third World.

Developing countries could be competitive in producing agricultural commodities, but not as long as industrial countries protect their farmers by erecting unfair trade barriers. Now is the chance to end this outrage. Naturally, food donations must be given to end acute starvation, but this is not a long-term solution.

Industrial countries should open their markets to farm produce from developing countries and contribute to the creation of jobs and income in the Third World. This would allow more people to buy food and satisfy their hunger. The poor and hungry of this world need food aid, but they also need work opportunities and fair trade.

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