Kitchen-table talk here in the United States is rife with complaints about rising oil prices and their impact on everything from foodstuffs to commuting costs. But the crisis of rising fuel prices pales in comparison to an even newer worry. Skyrocketing global prices for rice and grain crops, especially in developing nations that depend on them to feed their populaces, stand to dwarf our fuel problems.
Today's British Guardian newspaper reports:
The UN secretary general issued a gloomy warning yesterday that the burgeoning global food crisis, in which rapidly rising prices have triggered riots and threatened hunger in dozens of countries, could have grave implications for international security, economic growth and social progress."
This is an understatement. Young Americans were not alive when developing nations suffered unending food shortages and starvation was common in poor countries. I remember visiting India in the 1970s, when bone-thin families slept on bamboo mats on the streets of New Delhi.
Homeless men shaved each morning at fire hydrants that they used as sinks. Poverty is still rampant in the developing world. But starvation is not the constant it once was. Will it return?
"The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen by an average of 83 percent in the past three years, though for some staples the rises have been even sharper. A range of factors has been blamed, including poor harvests, partly due to climate change, steep growth in demand from China and India, and the dash to produce biofuels for motoring at the expense of food crops," reports the Guardian.
Food riots, mainly over rice shortages, have already broken out in Indonesia, Haiti, Egypt, and several other African countries.
Bangladesh is responding by requiring the use of more potatoes and less rice to feed its Army. "Easy to grow, quick to mature, requiring little water and with yields two to four times greater than that of wheat or rice, the potato is being cultivated more in an effort to ensure food security, agronomists say," reports the Independent.
Are potatoes the answer to rice and grain shortages? It's not yet clear. But it is clear that to our list of worries, which already includes energy security, homeland security, and economic security, we must add "food security."