Soaring cereal bills and the riots of hunger

The prices of cereals keep on increasing in an important way and numerous riots of hungers already occured in many countries of South America, Africa and Asia.

Biofuels aren’t the only reason for such increases – we will see below that many other factors were also involved – but they contribute in an important way.

As you can imagine, such a situation is worrying the UN food and agriculture experts from the FAO as well as many specialists.

Le Figaro Magazine [Fr] published on its April 19th issue an interesting article “La révolte des affamés” (the revolt of the starving) with a list of countries where riots of hunger already occurred.

The list already comprises more than a dozen countries : Mexico, Haiti, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Egypt, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

To the article, this situation is not only triggered by the rise of biofuels, but also by a multitude of other factors.

First and foremost, the world population is still increasing, which leads to a larger demand for food (logical) ; bad weather conditions that cut the production ; new consuming habits in developing countries, rising oil prices and speculation.

As you can see, biofuels aren’t the only culprit, but they reinforce the current trends of higher food prices.

As I stated previously, to me using cereals to make biofuels isn’t sustainable ( remember, sustainable development comprises three aspects : society, economy and environment)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization states it :

The cereal import bill of the world’s poorest countries is forecast to rise by 56 percent in 2007/2008. This comes after a significant increase of 37 percent in 2006/2007, FAO said today.

For low-income food-deficit countries in Africa, the cereal bill is projected to increase by 74 percent, according to the UN agency’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. The increase is due to the sharp rise in international cereal prices, freight rates and oil prices.

(…) By the end of March prices of wheat and rice were about double their levels of a year earlier, while those of maize were more than one-third higher, according to the report.

(…) According to FAO’s first forecast world cereal production in 2008 is to increase by 2.6 percent to a record 2 164 million tonnes. The bulk of the increase is expected in wheat, following significant expansion in plantings in major producing countries.

“Should the expected growth in 2008 production materialize, the current tight global cereal supply situation could ease in the new 2008/09 season,” the report said.

But much will depend on the weather, FAO cautioned, recalling that at this time last year prospects for cereal production in 2007 were far better than the eventual outcome. Unfavourable climatic conditions devastated crops in Australia and reduced harvests in many other countries, particularly in Europe.

“Favourable climatic conditions will be even more critical in the new season because world cereal reserves are depleted,” the report said.

According to FAO’s forecast, world cereal stocks are expected to fall to a 25-year-low of 405 million tonnes in 2007/08, down 21 million tonnes, or 5 percent, from their already reduced level of the previous year.

“Any major shortfalls resulting from unfavourable weather, particularly in exporting countries, would prolong the current tight market situation; contribute to more price rallies and exacerbate the economic hardship already facing many countries,” the report said.

(…) Worldwide, 37 countries are currently facing food crises, according to the report.

Source : Poorest countries’ cereal bill continues to soar, governments try to limit impact

On the very topic of biofuels, I strongly recommend you to read one of the latest articles of the Business of Green Blog from the IHT : Time to budge on biofuels?

Further reading :

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