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Global food crisis: MCC responds

Gladys Terichow
April 24, 2008

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Soaring food prices threaten to increase global hunger and poverty—two issues at the forefront of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) programs in many countries.

In the last month, serious food riots have taken place in 10 countries where MCC offers programs relating to food security.

Unrest over food prices in Haiti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Indonesia and many other countries signals that more people are being pushed into poverty, especially in countries where food instability and malnutrition are already daily realities, said Willie Reimer, director of MCC’s Food, Disaster and Material Resources programs.

The price of food staples such as wheat, rice, corn, soy, milk and meat has risen dramatically in the past year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that global food prices have risen 40 percent over the last nine months, prompting fears that the world's poorest people will buy less food or less nutritious food or be forced to rely on aid.

“In North Korea, for example, a bag of rice that feeds a family for just a few days costs more than 30 percent of a month’s salary,” said Reimer. “Fewer meals and a poorer diet will increase vulnerability to disease and illness.”

This spike in food prices is not just a short-term crisis—high commodity prices are projected to last for the next decade.

The increase is driven in part by the growing demand for food, increased land use for producing biofuels, a slump in food production because of drought and floods and high energy costs for producing and transporting food.

These factors, explained Reimer, are tied to longer-term problems caused by inequities in the global agri-food system and economic and political instability resulting from wars and conflicts.

While higher commodity prices are good news for farmers in developed countries, high food prices make it increasingly difficult for the most vulnerable people in the developing world to access food.

The “bottom billion,” the billion poorest people in the world—70 percent of whom live in Africa—are deeply affected by rising food costs. But the “new face of hunger” also includes more than 4 billion people with low incomes living in the 58 least-wealthy countries, including Haiti, Bolivia, Central Asian countries, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Burma and North Korea. These are people who suddenly can no longer afford the food they see on store shelves. Prices have soared beyond their reach.

MCC, working in partnership with local agencies throughout the world, is closely monitoring the impact of the food crisis and formulating appropriate responses.

MCC has a long history of addressing issues relating to food security and food injustices. MCC food programs include direct food assistance, water projects and agricultural supports. MCC also works with community groups and governments to advocate for just trade and fair economic policies.

Most of MCC's food aid is distributed as direct food assistance in collaboration with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). CFGB arranges the purchase and shipment of food for its 15 church-based members. MCC also has a relationship with the U.S.-based Foods Resource Bank which provides financial support for agriculture projects.


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