The Financial Crisis: Who will Help Starving Countries?

In recent months, the financial crisis has pushed back the food crisis, which had dominated the headlines for the past 18 months. But falling prices and corporate bankruptcies cannot hide an appalling fact - if not starvation, a shortage of food looms large in the future.

Last week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which held its 53rd meeting in Rome, failed to offer a meaningful solution.

Currently, 970 million people across the world are faced with shortage of food - 44 million more than at the start of the year. The world economic downturn is threatening to make things worse.

Only Brazil, Russia, the United States, Canada and Australia have freely available land and water resources that can be used for farming.

The arable potential across a vast part of the world is shrinking, while the population is growing and will do so for several decades more. This means food prices will continue to climb, and food might become a luxury item for most of the planet's population.

What does FAO propose? The rich should share with the poor, it says.

FAO director Jacques Diouf urged developing countries to contribute $30 billion each year to fight starvation on the planet. The international body also called for the withdrawal of subsidies from farmers in rich countries (subsidies improve their competitive position on the world market) and abolition of customs tariffs and other obstacles in the way of produce from the poor countries to world markets.

This approach is likely to create problems for farmers in developed nations rather than solve those of developing ones. No developed country will ever agree to reduce its own consumption to help the poor, because the amounts allocated will be enough only to ease the conscience of bureaucrats and not to feed the starving.

Indeed, can any high-ranking official take half of his child's ration and give it to a starving boy or girl in another country? Or sacrifice his family's annual holidays to contribute the money to the needy?

International organizations have been doing the good work for years, yet the number of poor and hungry people is rising.

The All-Russian Research Institute of Agricultural Economics says: food-sufficient countries are least affected by the food crisis. As an example it cites the European Union, which is 100 percent food-sufficient and has one of the world's lowest inflation rates - 3.6 percent.

Russia is among the 36 countries which do not need assistance to prevent mass hunger. But the economic crisis can worsen the plight of their populations.

According to the Institute, the nutritional value of the Russians' diet have gone down considerably at all levels. Nor is its food sufficiency among the best: 40 percent of the Russian food market depends on imports.

Analysts say when imports surpass 20 percent of the total good demand, domestic farming grinds to a halt, unable to develop on its own.

In the middle of the 20th century, former colonial countries passed advanced agrarian technologies to developing nations.

But now that these "green revolutions" have run out of steam, a number of developing countries might again revert to agricultural overpopulation and face the need to feed more mouths than they can afford.

This problem came up for discussion as long ago as the 1980s. Developing countries were cautioned to adopt birth control techniques to counter impending hunger (as was once done in Europe) and introduce new technologies.

But after a few years the idea was safely put to rest. All-conquering (but often misplaced) political correctness dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's: cultural traditions of some barred them from practicing birth control, while for others' family welfare infrastructure was so weak that population control was simply impossible.

What about advanced farming technologies? Developed countries are in no hurry to share them with developing nations, because that would mean reductions in exports and a blow to their own farmers.

The poor countries are unable to carry out a technological revolution of their own. So it only remains to compensate the poor by rendering them aid.

The question is: How long can this go on? 


More by :  Vlad Grinkevich

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