From the Oakland Institute
Governments are resorting to desperate measures to address growing social unrest before it destabilizes countries. reintroduced ration cards for the first time in two decades; has frozen prices of milk, bread, eggs, and cooking oil; has increased public food subsidies; while , , , and have imposed export controls on key agricultural commodities.
It is however essential to understand the underpinnings of this food crisis before rushing to adopt policy solutions. Over the last few decades liberalization of agriculture, dismantling of state run institutions like marketing boards, and specialization of developing countries in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton, and even flowers, encouraged by international financial institutions backed by rich countries like the U.S., has driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral, directly threatening food security and economic sustainability.
Removal of tariff barriers has allowed a handful of Northern countries to capture Third World markets by dumping heavily subsidized commodities while undermining local food production. This has resulted in developing countries turning from net exporters to large importers of food with food trade surplus of USD 1 billion in the 1970s transforming into USD 11 billion deficit in 2001. Dismantling of marketing boards that protected both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.
In the face of the current crisis UN agencies are calling for governments to step up their investments in agriculture and advocating for market efficiency. However these steps will be ineffective if not combined with much needed structural changes that ensure peoples right to food.
First, it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put in place to prevent widespread hunger. The poorest countries lacking resources should call for and be provided emergency aid to set up such systems. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals from the UN agencies.
Second, emergency interventions are required to boost rural development and promote agrarian reforms including land redistribution. Development policies should promote consumption and production of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms rather than encouraging poor nations to specialize in cash crops for western markets. Also national policies involving the management of stocks and pricing, which limit the volatility of food prices are vital for protection against such food crisis.