Category Archives: hunger

Structural Adjustment Programs, Not Drought, Causing Famine

West Africa’s “slow-motion” famine

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World Bank Famine in Niger

In 2005 a food crisis hit Niger. Out of a population of 12 million, 3.6 million went hungry and 800,000 children faced starvation. But activists in Niger claim that the famine was not caused by drought. “This is a structural famine. A permanent famine,” says journalist Moussa Tchangari. “It was caused by 20 years of structural adjustment programs.”

According to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), agricultural production was only 11% below the 5-year average and was actually higher than levels in 2001-02, when there was no food crisis. The real problem, according to FEWS, was that food prices rose between 75-80%.

Moussa Tchangari claims that, “The root of the problem is that for more than 20 years, neoliberal policies have been forced on this country. . . the international financial institutions encouraged export agriculture, so that now we do not produce enough food to feed the population.”

Like many African countries, Niger was pressured by the IMF, World Bank, and EU development agencies to dismantle government services and to move from subsistance agriculture to export agriculture – to grow cash crops instead of food.

In the middle of the famine, Niger continued to export food. Millions starved and tens of thousands of chlidren died while the markets remained full of food they could not afford to buy.

In the first months of the crisis, the government of Niger and the UNs World Food Program refused to distribute free food to the population because interfering with the free market could disrupt Niger’s development out of poverty.

Tchangari believes that Niger’s problems have been caused by this model of development and that the country needs a different aproach. “The solution is to put in place an agricultural policy that can insure food self-sufficiency. It is possible. . . It is a question of political will.”

Obama Freezes Food Programs, Exempts Military Budget

Obama to Seek Freeze on Some Spending to Trim Deficits

President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday and of the budget he will send to Congress on Monday for the fiscal year that begins in October.

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

The initiative holds political risks as well as potential benefits. Because Mr. Obama plans to exempt military spending while leaving many popular domestic programs vulnerable, his move is certain to further anger liberals in his party and senior Democrats in Congress, who are already upset by the possible collapse of health care legislation and the troop buildup in Afghanistan, among other things. Full Story

Feeding Cars While Billions Starve

One quarter of US grain crops fed to cars – not people, new figures show

New analysis of 2009 US Department of Agriculture figures suggests biofuel revolution is impacting on world food supplies.

One-quarter of all the maize and other grain crops grown in the US now ends up as biofuel in cars rather than being used to feed people, according to new analysis which suggests that the biofuel revolution launched by former President George Bush in 2007 is impacting on world food supplies.

The 2009 figures from the US Department of Agriculture shows ethanol production rising to record levels driven by farm subsidies and laws which require vehicles to use increasing amounts of biofuels.

“The grain grown to produce fuel in the US [in 2009] was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels,” said Lester Brown, the director of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank ithat conducted the analysis.

Last year 107m tonnes of grain, mostly corn, was grown by US farmers to be blended with petrol. This was nearly twice as much as in 2007, when Bush challenged farmers to increase production by 500% by 2017 to save cut oil imports and reduce carbon emissions.

More than 80 new ethanol plants have been built since then, with more expected by 2015, by which time the US will need to produce a further 5bn gallons of ethanol if it is to meet its renewable fuel standard.

According to Brown, the growing demand for US ethanol derived from grains helped to push world grain prices to record highs between late 2006 and 2008. In 2008, the Guardian revealed a secret World Bank report that concluded that the drive for biofuels by American and European governments had pushed up food prices by 75%, in stark contrast to US claims that prices had risen only 2-3% as a result.

Since then, the number of hungry people in the world has increased to over 1 billion people, according to the UN’s World Food programme. Full Story

A Million Children go to Bed Hungry in U.S.

Record numbers go hungry in the US
Government report shows 50m people unable to put food on the table at some point last year

More than a million children regularly go to bed hungry in the US, according to a government report that shows a startling increase in the number of families struggling to put food on the table.

President Barack Obama, who pledged to eradicate childhood hunger, has described as “unsettling” the agriculture department survey, which says 50 million people in the US – one in six of the population – were unable to afford to buy sufficient food to stay healthy at some point last year, in large part because of escalating unemployment or poorly paid jobs. That is a rise of more than one-third on the year before and the highest number since the survey began in 1995.

The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, said: “These numbers are a wake-up call … for us to get very serious about food security and hunger, about nutrition and food safety in this country.”

Vilsack said he expected the numbers to worsen when the survey for this year is released in 2010.

The report said 6.7 million people were defined as having “very low food security” because they regularly lacked sufficient to eat. Among them, 96% reported that the food they bought did not last until they had money to buy more. Nearly all said they could not afford to eat balanced meals. Although few reported that this was a permanent situation throughout the year, 88% said it had occurred in three or more months.

Nearly half reported losing weight because they did not have enough money to buy food. Full Story

Household Food Security in the United States, 2008

Obama Nation: Ray of Hope has Already Darkened for Many

State of Obama Nation: One year on from America’s choice

Obamas Tout Organic While Giving US Pesticide Lobbyist

Agriculture nomination steams greens

When the Obama administration announced that it was nominating a former pesticide lobbyist to be the chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative, it sparked more than the usual Internet chatter.

“Obama’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator Nominee Is a Pesticide Pusher;” screamed one website. ‘Obama’s Ag Policy Is Giving Me Whiplash,” lamented another. “Obama Backtreads,” scolded a third.

The nomination of Islam Siddiqui, vice president for science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America, struck an off-key note among environmentalists — and not just because they think pesticides and chemicals are unsafe for humans and detrimental to the environment. Perhaps more important was the sense of betrayal. After all, it was Michelle Obama herself who had demanded a pesticide-free garden for the first family at the White House, suggesting — environmentalists thought — that the Obama administration was sympathetic to their cause.

“We are seriously disheartened by this appointment,” said Katherine Ozer, executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition, which represents family farmers. “While we have been encouraged by the first lady and USDA’s promotion of sustainable agriculture and local food, Siddiqui’s role will undermine those goals both here and abroad by promoting our current broken, chemical-intensive, industrial-agriculture model.”

The Pesticide Action Network, which documents what it says are the hazardous impacts of pesticides on crop production, farm animals and humans, said Siddiqui’s nomination last month called into question “just how committed the Obama administration is to promoting sustainable agriculture and reducing hunger in the developing world.” Full Story

Petition to withdraw the nomination of Islam Siddiqui

Obama Sees Light at end of Tunnel in a Shrinking Economy

Obama Says “pointed in the Right Direction”

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US food stamp list tops 34 million for first time

For the first time, more than 34 million Americans received food stamps, which help poor people buy groceries, government figures said on Thursday, a sign of the longest and one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression

Enrollment surged by 2 percent to reach a record 34.4 million people, or one in nine Americans, in May, the latest month for which figures are available.

It was the sixth month in a row that enrollment set a record. Every state recorded a gain in participation from April. Florida had the largest increase at 4.2 percent.

Food stamp enrollment is highest during times of economic stress. The U.S. unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is the highest in 26 years.

Average benefit was $133.65 in May per person. The economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year included a temporary increase in food stamp benefits of $80 a month for a family of four. Full Story

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Demand At Food Banks Up, Even In Well-Off D.C. Suburbs

Mezmure Dawit, 22, showed up at the food bank in Fairfax, Va., looking for help. He said he’d lost his job as a maintenance man at an apartment building last month and he needed food for his 14-year-old brother and 18-year-old sister.

He said their father had left them five months ago. “He just left. No money, nothing,” said Dawit, wearing crisp blue jeans and a striped shirt. “It’s been hard, man.”

As the national unemployment rate nears 10 percent, more and more people are turning to food banks for help keeping food on their plates. Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, reports that demand at food banks across the United States is up 30 percent from last year.

Feeding America spokeswoman Maura Daly told the Huffington Post that as recently as May of last year, 90 percent of Feeding America’s clients cited food and fuel costs as their reasons for needing assistance. By December 90 percent were citing unemployment as the primary reason. Full Story

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U.S. Recession Worst Since Great Depression, Revised Data Show

The first 12 months of the U.S. recession saw the economy shrink more than twice as much as previously estimated, reflecting even bigger declines in consumer spending and housing, revised figures showed.

The world’s largest economy contracted 1.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the last three months of 2008, compared with the 0.8 percent drop previously on the books, the Commerce Department said yesterday in Washington. Gross domestic product has shrunk 3.9 percent in the past year, the report said, indicating the worst slump since the Great Depression.

Updated statistics also showed that Americans earned more over the last 10 years and socked away a larger share of that cash in savings. The report signals the process of repairing tattered balance sheets following the biggest drop in household wealth on record may be further along than anticipated.

“The current downturn beginning in 2008 is more pronounced,” Steven Landefeld, director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, said in a press briefing this week. The revisions were in line with past experience in which initial figures tended to underestimate the severity of contractions during their early stages, he said.