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Food crisis impacts relief agencies Linda Bloom, Jul 30, 2008
UMNS PHOTO BY JUNE KIM; OTHERS BY STOP HUNGER NOW, PAUL JEFFREY/CWS
A Ghanaian farmer checks his crop as part of UMCOR’s integrated crop and pest management training.
By Linda Bloom United Methodist News Service
The skyrocketing cost of rice is affecting how Stop Hunger Now and other relief organizations do their work.
Rice is the main component of the nutritious meal packages dispensed worldwide by the group, which is based in Raleigh, N.C., and led by the Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist pastor. “[The cost] is having an absolutely direct impact on what we’re going to do,” Mr. Buchanan said.
As a result, Stop Hunger Now may have to reduce its goal to package 5.5 million meals during 2008 or rely on more donations from volunteers who put together the meals, he added.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, the well-known economist and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has described the worldwide food situation as “the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” according to The New York Times.
And those affected most by the crisis are the poorest of the poor, according to June Kim, who monitors hunger-related projects for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “A lot of people living on $2 a day are now having to pay more for food and getting less food,” she said.
Trouble is everywhere, according to news reports:
In the Horn of Africa, a lack of rain, poor harvests, soaring food prices and inflation, and violence have hampered food aid.
In Haiti, where the cost of beans, corn and rice has skyrocketed, the very poor are literally eating mud patties made out of mud, oil and sugar.
In Australia, a six-year drought has nearly destroyed the country's huge rice industry, reducing the rice crop by 98 percent.
In the Philippines, the government has distributed monthly cash subsidies and “rice passes” in an effort to deal with food shortages.
Many say the crisis has arisen from a “perfect storm” of rising oil prices, climate change and natural disasters.
UMCOR finds itself responding to more than just specific regional problems related to food, such as drought in sub-Saharan Africa or floods in Mozambique, according to the Rev. Sam Dixon, chief executive. “It’s not localized, as it often has been in the past,” he said.
The change in eating patterns has had an impact because of an increase in average income in places such as India, China and other parts of Asia. “People who are moving out of poverty eat better and they eat higher on the food chain,” Mr. Buchanan said. “All that requires enormous inputs of grain.”
At the same time, in the U.S. alone, “a third of all the corn being produced is now going to biofuels rather than human or animal consumption,” he said.
The amount of grain available this year also is in question. U.S. harvests of corn and soybeans are being threatened by rain and flooding, while Australian wheat farmers are coping with drought.
Those with nothing left to lose can become desperate, as shown by the food riots and demonstrations last spring in Haiti, Egypt, Yemen, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Thailand, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and even Italy.
“It’s not just an issue of food,” Mr. Buchanan said. “It’s an issue of global security. Global leaders are understanding that this is almost like a tipping point. Right now there are at least 33 countries around the world that are politically unstable... by food insecurity.”
The current crisis does seem to have a broader and more dangerous impact, agrees Richard Williams, director of the social and economic development program for Church World Service.
“We feel that it is more widespread because you hear more and more about food riots in a lot of places at the same time,” he said. “Food riots can destabilize a government.”
With all the factors involved, “there are no quick fixes for this one,” Mr. Williams added. “This is not a food drop somewhere.”
The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said more than talk is needed to solve the crisis. “Conferences and reports over many years have concluded that it is feasible to end world hunger,” he said.
What is necessary, he said, is to strengthen advocates for the hungry and poor––ranging from neighborhood groups and religious institutions to governments, the press and political parties.
The Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya who leads the World Council of Churches, expressed hope for “timely action” and said the WCC Executive Committee would address the food crisis at its September meeting.
Churches should advocate against the production of biofuels “at the expense of food production and the environment,” Mr. Kobia’s statement said, and support small farmers and the just distribution of food resources.