World rice prices rose 141% since January. Wheat rose 77% last year, one variety rising 25% in a single day. The effects of these dramatic increases are being felt world-wide with violent protests breaking out in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon and Indonesia. It is the first time a wave of food riots has swept across the globe in 30 years. World Food Programs Josette Sheeran says, This is a silent tsunami.
Nearly a billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, struggling to get by on only $1 day. Another 100 million have fallen to that level as a result of the food crisis. Those already living in extreme poverty, some of them now spending over half their income on food, cannot cut back anything else. Millions face malnutrition and starvation. In Haiti, more and more turn towards mud patties (a mixture of sugar, oil and mud) as a source of nourishment.
Its not only the undeveloped world that is struggling. In the US, the wealthiest country in the world, there will soon be a record 28 million people on food stamps. High food prices, high energy costs, a collapsing housing market and an economy sliding deeper into recession are putting more and more pressure on Americas working people and poor.
Growing demand for food in China and India, climate change, and demand for bio-fuels are all cited as factors of the price increases. Also a factor is speculation as investors seeking safer bets move to commodities like food. The world already has the capacity to easily feed its entire population. The root cause of food crisis is global capitalism.
The drive for profits determines production, distribution, and the research and development of nearly everything. For instance, the amount of land turned over for profitable bio-fuel production in the US in the last 2 years alone could provide enough grain for 250 million people.
Thirty years ago, Haiti used to produce nearly all the rice it needed. In 1986, the US-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered Haiti a desperately needed $24.6 million loan. The conditions of the loan were that Haiti had to relax its trade barriers. This led to an invasion of heavily-subsidized US rice. Unable to compete, local rice farmers were decimated in only a matter of years! Now Haiti imports four-fifths of its rice and more than half its population lives on less than $1 a day. The food riots have already forced the Haitian prime minister to resign.
The solution to this global crisis will not come from price controls or simply bumping up some aide programs. The profits system itself has to be removed and production and distribution of the worlds food supply must be placed under public ownership and democratic control of working people and the poor.
Skeptics of socialism often say in despair that the idea sounds nice but people, especially in the developed world, have completely bought into the capitalist system and are just too comfortable. But the recession in the US, a possible world economic down-turn and now the food crisis will prove otherwise. Foodshortages and inflation not only lead to social unrest but also to revolutions. It is the terrible crises that capitalism creates, like starvation, which can transform the mass consciousness into an immense demand for a new, socialist society.