Washington, DC – Volatile food markets and food insecurity contributed to the civic unrest that recently brought down Egypt’s president. To better understand the unfolding reality of global food price volatility, ActionAid (an international anti-poverty agency operating in 50 countries) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today released an interactive map showing which countries are at highest risk of a food crisis due to recent food price hikes.
“We are teetering on a full-fledged global crisis and one trigger—rising oil prices, a spike in the cost of rice, an export ban, or climate related shortage of crops—could be the tipping point,” said Marie Brill, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA, anti-poverty organization. “To use storm terminology, we were in a food crisis watch last fall, which has escalated into a food crisis warning. The U.S. needs to be prepared and to take steps now to mitigate a food crisis and prevent future crises.”
“The U.S. stubbornly continues to subsidize corn ethanol even as the ripple effects of burning our food for fuel are being felt by citizens around the world,” said Sheila Karpf, legislative and policy analyst at EWG. “When we send seven times as much corn to ethanol plants as we keep in our own stockpiles, the diversion of just a few more bushels sends shockwaves through commodity markets and food price indices.”
Food prices are at record-breaking highs, contributing to the recent political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East. These events point to the potential for a broader global food crisis that could threaten economic recovery and political stability in dozens of countries across the globe.
U.S. policies propping up industrial biofuels production are playing a key role in driving up food prices, diverting corn production from food and livestock feed and using it to produce corn ethanol. Over the last two years, the amount of corn fed to US livestock fell by 3 million metric tons while corn shipments to ethanol producers grew by 33 million tons.
More than $3 of every $4 in tax credits the federal government provides for renewable energy goes to corn ethanol despite growing evidence that corn ethanol will not make a dent in fossil fuel use, does little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and threatens soil, water and wildlife habitat. The U.S. has shifted 40 percent of corn production from food and feed to fuel, putting stress on corn supplies in a year when stocks are at the lowest level in decades. The combination of incentives to the biofuels industry and increasing demand for ethanol triggered by rising oil prices has increased demand for commodities and forced up food costs.
People living in the 52 high-risk countries identified by the map – 750 million of them already malnourished – rely on 83 billion tons of imported food a year, much of it corn, soybeans and wheat exported by the United States.
At least half of the 52 countries are experiencing food price hikes. Thirty-seven are heavy importers of corn, and all but four are net importers of wheat. In all but three countries highlighted by the map, average income is just $2 a day and people spend at least 55 percent of their income on food. Price hikes have an immediate impact on families’ ability to afford food.
Data was compiled from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), US Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the World Bank, ActionAid and EWG.