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Making a Killing From Food Price Rises

Recent analysis from Save the Children and World Vision shows that in the Sahel region currently one million children are at risk of starvation because their families can't access affordable nutritious food, having sold off their assets, their cattle and tools, to cope with the lingering drought.
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When crises hit, there are always winners and losers. While food price spikes push millions into poverty, the agriculture director of the notoriously secretive commodity trader, Glencore, this week declared a "good" business opportunity.

On top of increased margins from food price increases, Glencore also benefits from the response. In 2011, the World Food Programme spent £50m of aid money on wheat from the firm to respond to the food crisis, during a period when profits from agricultural products doubled to $8.8bn.

For the 20 million people at risk of hunger in the Sahel, crises don't get much more serious. Recent spikes in staple food prices are likely to exacerbate the problem, putting nutritious food out of the reach of millions of people, and pushing millions more in to poverty.

Food prices have been volatile for five years, since the record highs in 2008 when food riots erupted in countries across the world. In the UK, prices of basic items on the super market shelves soared and poor people, whether they were in Bangor or Bangladesh, got hit hardest. In 2011 an estimated 400,000 children's lives were put at risk because of price rises and now the G20 are planning a response to increasing volatility.

Recent analysis from Save the Children and World Vision shows that in the Sahel region currently one million children are at risk of starvation because their families can't access affordable nutritious food, having sold off their assets, their cattle and tools, to cope with the lingering drought. Agencies including Save the Children are doing what they can to provide assistance, with cash and food, but know that the cycle will continue unless the root causes of food crises are addressed.

This means that while we must ensure that promises of aid to meet immediate need are kept, the fractures in a fragile food system are also reset. This includes securing rights and access to land so nutritious food can be grown sustainably; shining a light on big investments so people can know what profits their governments are making from selling off their land and natural resources and where that money goes; exposing tax dodging so governments can provide funding for nutrition and agriculture from their domestic revenues; to name but a few.

What we are witnessing in the Sahel is only the most extreme manifestation of a broken food system of which we are all a part. This crisis has shown the need for drastic systemic change and over the course of the next year we have an opportunity to begin that process. The solutions are not simple; they are commensurate with the scale and nature of the problem. But the problem is not insurmountable.

2013 provides an historic opportunity to launch the biggest ever push against hunger and malnutrition. On the final day of the Olympics, David Cameron committed to use the UK's chair of the G8 to prioritise these issues, while the Irish Taoiseach, committed to use its presidency of the European Union to do the same.

If the UK government remains true to its word, it will be the first of the G8 nations to meet the historic commitment to spend 0.7 per cent GNI on aid in a year that it hosts the international summit of the largest economies. The government should use that meeting to hold other governments' feet to the fire and begin to redress the systemic faults that keep people hungry. And campaigners should be as ruthless in pursuing this as Glencore are in pursuing profits.

Companies have an important role to play, in providing jobs and income, in ensuring commodities meet demand and reach those who need them. Good corporate behaviour exists and there are corporate allies in the fight against hunger. And in a world with enough food to feed everyone, there is no need or excuse to profit from others poverty, especially when the difference between winners and losers in this crisis can be the difference between life and death.

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