MediaGlobal’s Lauren Lavitt and Mariana Rebua Simoes tackle the growing food crisis:
2012 is shattering temperature records. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is the warmest 12-month period the United States has experienced since record-keeping began in 1895.
The unprecedented heat is just one of many problems that stem from climate change. According to the US Drought Monitor, the drought footprint is expanding to cover 63 percent of the nation, which has worldwide consequences.
“The US drought is just one of many extreme weather events around the world this year and their combined ‘domino’ effect could put many at risk of higher food prices, if not a full-on food crisis,” adds Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Drought Monitor reveals that 78 percent of the corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop in the United States has been impacted by the drought.
“[The] US is one of the largest producers and exporters of corn, contributing 38 percent to world output and responsible for nearly half of global corn exports,” reminds Cleetus. “In an era of globalized commodity markets, the devastation of the US corn crop translates into a global grain shortage.”
In practice, this means that the price of corn or soy-based food and the price for feed for animals will rise and with it the cost of meat, chicken, and dairy in local food stores.
The US Agriculture Department expects higher food prices next year, with a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in prices. Beef and veal prices have an anticipated increase of 4 percent to 5 percent. Prices for poultry will rise as well to about 3 percent, while Dairy will see a rise of about 3.5 to 3.5 percent.
Most notably, the rise in prices within the United States will affect the international food market and will impact the developing world the most. “The poorest households are the hardest hit,” says Bettina Luescher, chief spokesperson for the World Food Programme’s North American global issues.
“If you have less than $2 income per day, you spend around 60 to 80 percent of that money on food. So you can imagine how a family is going to be hit if food prices suddenly go up by a large amount,” Luescher adds.
Among the many consequences a global rise in prices might mean for families in developing countries is a major blow to their health. “What those families are doing is they are cutting back on a number of meals, they are buying cheaper less nutritious foods. That also means that the risk of malnutrition is going up,” Luescher warns.
Children are one of the groups who are most affected by malnutrition since a balanced diet in the first years of a child’s life is imperative for human development.
Save the Children, a US organization that partners with agencies to help children around the world, estimated that 400,000 children’s lives were in danger when a 40 percent rise in cereal prices occurred between 2009 and 2011.
In times of need, many parents take their children out of school so they can contribute to the family income. The rise in food prices also make it more costly to help these low-income families to make ends meet.
Every time the price of food increases by 10 percent, the World Food Programme (WFP) spends an additional $200 million for the same amount of food aid. During the 2007-2008 food crisis the WFP spent $755 million more than they planned on food.
“We are not yet in a crisis but we need to be prepared that something like the food crisis of 2007-2008 happens again,” warns Luescher.
In 2007, prices of basic food products went through the roof, sparking a series of riots all over the world. By 2008, wheat prices had risen by 50 percent and the price of rise increased by as much as 70 percent.
The World Bank estimates that “the food, fuel and financial crisis of 2007–2008 may have added 40 million to the ranks of the hungry in 2009 and pushed an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty in 2010.”
Abdolreza Abbassian, Senior Grains Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), explains that the situation this time around is quite different from what it was in 2007-2008.
“In this case, fortunately we have a very good rice situation – at least so far – and rice prices are reflecting that they have been very stable,” says Abbassian.
Also in 2008, export bans enacted by major food producing countries had a sharp negative effect on global markets. Governments also began “panic-buying” or paying high prices for foodstuffs, especially rice, to stock up on reserves.
Although these same conditions have not yet been apparent in current trends of food insecurity, there is another darker cloud looming over the global market.
“Weather is much worse now than in 2007,” shares Abbassian. “Weather patterns have been more abnormal.”
Experts say that irregular weather events such as the drought in the United States are just one of many other incidents that are spreading all over the world and affecting global food markets.
“The record heat in the US this summer is an example of what we expect to see more of as the climate continues to warm due to man-made greenhouse gases,” warns Andrew Freedman, Climate Central’s Senior Science Writer. “Consider it a preview of what’s to come.”