Food Crisis

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A Food Crisis is afflicting our world today. Food scarcity, global warming, rocketing oil prices and a burgeoning world population have pushed up food prices. As always, the crisis and rising prices have had their biggest fallout amongst the poor -- millions of the world's most vulnerable people face starvation and death as food shortages are leading to higher prices than ever before. The problem is getting so acute that many call it the biggest crisis of the 21st century.


Why should I be aware of this?

It's not just food grains that are getting more expensive -- with rising oil prices, the prices of meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products are also spiralling high. The world bodies have risen to the occasion in the following manner:

  • The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is giving food handouts to over 73 million people in 78 countries, all of whom would starve if they did not receive these handouts.
  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared that 36 countries are in the throes of a food crisis today.
  • Global food prices have risen by 83% in the last 3 years, according to the World bank. Wheat prices have increased by 200% and prices of rice, corn and soya have touched record highs.

Food crisis and environment

Are Bio Fuels Replacing Food Crops?

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in their latest data estimates that 100 million tonnes of grain or 1/20th of world production was converted to ethanol worldwide in 2007-2008. The USDA predicts that 100 million tonnes of just the United States’ corn will be converted to ethanol in 2008-09. It is no wonder, then, that the strategy of using food grains to make ethanol has many critics.

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington biofuel production accounts for a quarter to a third of the recent increase in global commodity prices. United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization predicted a rise of 10 to 15 percent in food prices because of biofuel production late last year.

New Age `Smart Crops'

Scientists are working to develop `smart crops' that produce food as well as fuel. One of these is Sweet Sorghum, which is being touted as the next miracle crop that provides cheap animal feed and fuel without straining the world’s food supply or harming the environment, say scientists working on a pilot farming project in India. Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolour) is the world’s fifth largest grain crop after rice, corn, wheat and barley. And its leaves yield a sweet juice that is fermented and distilled to obtain bioethanol, a clean burning fuel with a high octane rating. Sweet sorghum requires little or no irrigation, limiting the use of fuel-burning water pumps that emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Producing ethanol from it is also cheaper -- Sweet sorghum in India costs $1.74 (Rs74.64) to produce a gallon (3.78 litres) of ethanol, compared with $2.19 for sugar cane and $2.12 for corn.

All about food crisis

High prices have already prompted a string of food protests around the world, with tortilla riots in Mexico, disputes over food rationing in West Bengal and protests over grain prices in Senegal, Mauritania and other parts of Africa. In Yemen, children have marched to highlight their hunger, while in London last week hundreds of pig farmers protested outside Downing Street.

If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die.

What Can Be Done to Alleviate It?

Food producing countries across the world need to ensure that farm produce gets to consumers before it becomes stale. Nearly one-third of fresh farm produce in India rots before it can be sent to consumers. Grain stored in warehouses gets eaten by rats. The lack of modern rural markets and supply chains is to blame. Here are some ways in which governments can help --

  • Give farmers ample opportunity to sell their produce by creating farmer's markets and wholesale markets.
  • Create state of the art cold storage facilities to keep the unsold produce for longer.
  • Provide food processing knowhow, so that farm produce may be processed to give it a longer shelf life.
  • The governments of richer first world countries also need to do their bit.
  • Invest in small farmers, and protect them from the risks of a free-trade world. The U.N. would “level the playing field” by cutting subsidies to agri-business, reducing tariffs, and upping investment in small-farms, one at a time.

What can I do about it?

Here are some tips about how we can help --

  • With food prices rising, the dollar falling, and the economy reeling, it is becoming increasing important that we learn how to grow a portion of our own food.
  • If circumstances prevent you from growing food, at least ensure you buy from small producers. Find a farmer's market nearest to your home and buy fresh fruit and vegetables there.


New Sources of Food

Scientists say that one way to mitigate the effects of the current food crisis is to look for new food sources that are from lower down the food chain. When we eat beef or pork, we are eating animals that already have a relatively large ecological footprint. But if we shift to lower forms, insects and algae, perhaps the burden of our consumption will be lower. Spirulina, a microscopic blue green alga, is one such food option.


  • A US government study that says 27% of food available for consumption is thrown away — by families, restaurants, cafeterias and supermarkets. That’s one pound of food every day for every American, enough to feed many hungry bellies in less fortunate countries.
  • Scientists estimate that growing the `smart crop' Sweet Sorghum -- which yields both food and fuel -- may enable small farmers in India to improve their incomes by 20% or more.
  • In the world every seven seconds a malnourished child dies
  • 35 000 people around the world die each day from hunger.
  • Hunger and malnutrition are on the increase, even in advanced industrialized countries like Canada, where each year an estimated 2.5 million people depend on food banks.
  • About 30 million people in the United States are reported to be unable to buy enough food to maintain good health.
  • Populations in many in urban areas, who had thought themselves secure in their food supply, are now unable to afford basic foodstuffs.
  • The United Nations estimates there are 840 million undernourished people in the world. The majority of undernourished people (799 million) reside in developing countries, most of which are on the continents of Africa and Asia.


  • The Problem With Ethanol
  • The Global Food Crisis
  • Food Crisis

See Also