Prices of basic food items have rocketed in the last year, hitting the world’s least developed countries the hardest, where working people commonly spend half or more of their income on food.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization announced in January that the food price index rose 32 percent between June and December 2010. Prices are expected to climb even further in the coming year. One billion people in the world don’t get enough to eat, according to the UN.
So far this year corn is up 63 percent; wheat, 84 percent; soybeans, 24 percent; and sugar, 55 percent.
Protests have broken out in Morocco, Tunisia, and most recently Algeria, over increased prices for milk, sugar, and flour and lack of jobs.
Algerian youth and others took to the streets demanding, “Bring us sugar!” In the first week in January two demonstrators had been killed in protests of thousands in at least five cities. Official unemployment in the country is 11 percent but the real figure is considered to be double that.
Algeria, with large gas and oil resources, is one of the top 10 wheat importers in the world. The Middle East and North Africa are the world’s largest importers of cereals. These countries highlight the imperialist-imposed backwardness in agriculture and industry. Lack of electricity and modern farming equipment, coupled with decades of underdevelopment by colonial powers, limit these resource-rich countries’ ability to be self-sufficient in food production.
The world capitalist system, in which food is a commodity, leaves millions without the ability to increase production, even if their country has a wealth of other resources.
Youth and workers have also been protesting for weeks in neighboring Tunisia. The clashes erupted in mid-December following the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. Dozens of demonstrators have been killed.
In India, a country going through “robust growth” according to statistics, food prices are rising at an annual rate of 18 percent. The steepest increases are for potatoes and onions, which have doubled in price.
Undernourishment is rampant in India. In 11 out of 19 states more than 80 percent of the population is anemic and more than half the children under the age of five suffer poor physical development because of lack of nutrition.
All indications are prices will continue to rise. A 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report showed that U.S. supermarket prices for food have climbed by 128 percent since 1982, four times the increase in crop prices for farmers.
The UN and imperialist governments say that some of the recent “shortages” are due to excess rain and flooding. While this can aggravate the situation, the food crisis is rooted in capitalism’s production for profit rather than meeting human needs.
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