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In World Food Scarcity, Price Inflation Is Preceding Famine

Sept. 28, 2020 (EIRNS)—In isolated pockets around the world, worst-case scenarios of humanitarian crisis—including war, pandemic lockdowns, and migrations—are leading to intolerable food price inflation, even famine conditions. While the entire African continent could be considered “stressed,” the worst cases are in war-torn, flooded South Sudan and Ethiopia in the east, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria in the west, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia in the south. To this list must be added yet two more, not in Africa: Yemen, and across the ocean, Haiti.

On Sept. 5, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned openly of the “threat of famine,” singling out D.R. Congo, Yemen, northeast Nigeria, and South Sudan. “Action is needed now,” he told AP, according to detailed coverage by China’s CGTN. “The situation varies from country to country, but civilians are being killed, injured and displaced; livelihoods are destroyed; and availability of and access to food disrupted, amid growing fragility,” Guterres said. “At the same time, humanitarian operations are attacked, delayed or obstructed from delivering life-saving assistance.” Already in June, the World Food Program was trumpeting that 2020 would be their largest year ever, in terms of the numbers requiring assistance.

To those millions directly threatened, must be added another factor: price inflation. A Sept. 17 article in Vice media brought this into focus: About 80% of Africa’s food is “domestic,” so pandemic lockdowns shuttered producers, distributors, and consumers, alike, writing: “Well before COVID-19 hit, more than half of Sub-Saharan Africa struggled to afford a healthy diet. But since the beginning of the pandemic there has been a spike in food insecurity across the continent, up by 135% in West and Central Africa, and 90% in Southern Africa.” And it’s not just “exotic” animal-protein foods, either. Even the most basic of grains, sorghum, is in short supply. According to Vice, “In July, sorghum prices exceeded the five-year average by 150% to 250% in Sudan; 50% to 240% in South Sudan; 85% in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and 20 to 55% in Southern Somalia.” Total food market basket prices are up 15% in many countries.

Like corn in the U.S., sorghum is also a basic feedstock for livestock.

Today’s situation should be compared with that of 2008-2010, in the months surrounding the 2008 market collapse and resulting Great Recession. Then, world food prices spiked, then quickly fell back, only to spike again in 2010. Major causal factors were the speculation which contributed to the financial crash—food reserves were reduced to a minimum—and the onslaught of green “food for fuel,” bio-fuel conversion programs, both of which are underlying factors in today’s crisis.

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