Political leaders from around the world have a big decision to make. Should they save the world or save its inhabitants? Both are important, but as much as I believe an environmental cause is a good cause, a humanitarian crisis often trumps it.
An extended global food shortage is increasing malnutrition and death among developing nations, and hiking up the cost of necessary food items in the United States and other countries. The United Nations estimates that more than 100 million people are desperately hungry, setting back international efforts to reduce poverty by five to 10 years.
The BBC attributes three main causes to the food crisis: poor harvests, global warming and an increase in the demand for biofuels. Because of this complexity, finding a solution to the dire situation has been more difficult than anticipated.
Oftentimes, hunger, like many other humanitarian crises, seems to be so far from home in the United States. But for once, U.S. residents are feeling the effects. Not only are U.S. consumers victims of rising prices of rice, corn, wheat, milk, meat and more, but U.S.-based food companies are feeling the shortage as well. Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., and Coca-Cola, along with others, are facing lower revenues from the increasing costs of manufacturing their products. Together, these companies are addressing Congress, lobbying for a “reshape” of domestic and international policies on biofuel production to offset the woes they share with the public on limited resources.
In the recent CNNMoney article “Food makers lobby Congress to limit corn usage in biofuels,” journalist Anjali Cordeiro argued that these big brand companies’ willingness to take active roles in the ethanol debate shows how monstrous of an issue food prices have become. It seems that people are advocating against alternative fuel efforts for a legitimately good reason.
A freeze on biofuel development and research would increase global reliance on other forms of energy – not a good option. But continued governmental support of ethanol production is diverting essential food products from hungry people and hungry cattle (which feed people too).
So what’s the world to do? Although humanitarian advocates have been screaming warnings for months, U.S. policymakers have failed to react. Many countries have lowered import taxes, created restrictions on exports and attempted food distribution to the most impoverished, but no adequate solutions have been implemented (translation: a growing population of hungry people).
The United Nations has called for an international meeting of world leaders starting next month in hopes of tackling the problem once and for all. When they meet in early June, the group can not follow the current trend with quick-fix emergency solutions. A Band-Aid won’t stop this bleeding.
The first thing leaders need to do is find a way to close the gigantic funding gap in the United Nation’s successful World Food Program. More importantly, they must agree on the need for fundamental changes in the global food structure. International trading, agricultural subsidies and land management must all be closely examined and scrutinized, and changes need to be made in efforts to avoid another crisis.Lastly, while they’re at it, the leaders need to recognize the problems with the relationship between global environmental efforts and the food shortage. Together, they need to brainstorm a way to turn the current positive biofuel investments into funding for biofuel production from crop waste or grasses that people don’t eat.
The world will continue to go hungry without a response that dually satisfies the current lack in food and prevents the next. Let’s hope this meeting can achieve that.
Taylor Moore is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily current events columnist.