Food prices threaten Africa

Rising prices are threatening human security in Africa by putting affordable food beyond the means of many, says food security NGO Oxfam.
Oxfam says it needs an extra £15 million to pay for its international development and humanitarian work in food and agriculture, and to campaign for changes to the flawed trade and agricultural polices that have left poor farmers vulnerable.
It made the appeal this morning to coincide with World Food Day along with the release of a new report titled “Double Edged Prices” that show that the increases in food prices have pushed the world`s poorest further into destitution – while quadrupling profits for some international businesses.
The nongovernmental group – set up in the wake of World War Two – says rising world food prices have so far this year helped push an extra 119 million people into malnutrition worldwide. Many of those live in Africa.
“The prices of basic foods such as rice and cereals have increased by up to 300 per cent in some places and nearly a billion people around the world are now malnourished,” Oxfam says quoting the World Bank.
Double edged prices
In Double Edged Prices, Oxfam says that all governments, donors, and agencies, must learn the lessons from the crisis and take action by investing in agriculture, having trade policies that ensure food security, and designing social protection systems that protect the poorest.
Oxfam CE Barbara Stocking adds that the trend in agriculture, as in international finance, has been towards deregulation and a reduced role for the state.
“This has had devastating effects and innocent lives have been blighted by exposure to market volatility,” she says.
“It is time the world woke up to the need for developing country governments to support their poor farmers, and the obligation of developed countries to help them to do so.”
“In countries where governments have invested in agriculture, and put policies in place to target vulnerable or marginalised groups, the impacts of food price inflation have been less severe. In contrast, where there has been unmanaged trade liberalisation, underinvestment in agriculture, and little support from government, the effects have been devastating,” she adds.
Higher food prices mean people are eating less and lower quality food, children are being taken out of school and farmers are being forced to migrate to cities to live in slums.
Women are especially vulnerable because they rarely own land and have limited access to credit and other services, but they bear much of the responsibility for feeding and caring for families.
Record profit
Meanwhile, some of the biggest international food companies have made windfall profits. Commodity-trader, Bunge, saw its profits in the second fiscal quarter of 2008 increase by $583 million, or quadruple, compared with the same period last year.
Nestlé`s global sales grew nearly 9% in the first half of 2008, and UK supermarket Tesco, has reported profits up 10% from last year. Seed company, Monsanto, reported a 26% increase in revenue to a record $3.6 billion in the fiscal quarter that ended May 31, 2008.
“Misguided or inadequate national agricultural policies, coupled with unfair trade rules and poor economic advice, has created a situation where big traders and supermarkets are gaining from price rises, and small farmers and consumers are losing out,” charges Stocking.
Poor institutional response
Oxfam also criticises the international community`s inadequate response – both in terms of money and coordination.
At an emergency meeting in Rome earlier this year, attended by, among others, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, $12.3 billion was pledged for the food crisis, but little more than $1bn has been disbursed so far.
This is in stark contrast with the response to the current financial crisis, where huge financial resources have been mobilised by the international community in a matter of days, Oxfam says.