There are a lot of problems facing our next president, none of them simple. Watching all the rhetoric flying around, I keep thinking that words only mean so much; whoever wins this election better be able to come up with some nuts-and-bolts solutions.
But here’s one issue we haven’t heard much about, yet would be relatively straightforward to tackle: the global food crisis.
Why talk about the food crisis? Because volatile world prices for some staple foods—not luxury items, but basics like corn, rice, and wheat—now mean that neither producers nor consumers can get a fair deal. When prices are up, people can’t afford the food they need to feed their families; when prices are down, growers in poor countries can’t get a fair price for their crops. While you and I spend about a tenth of our income on food, the world’s poorest people spend about 50 to 80 percent, leaving them especially vulnerable to shifting markets. And the global financial meltdown isn’t helping the situation, either. So you don’t need complex math to figure out that millions of people, here and overseas, are now suffering from severe hunger.
And here’s the thing: because of our mistaken food aid policies, the US has actually added to the problem.
“We all blew it, including me,” Bill Clinton admitted at a UN meeting last week. “Food is not a commodity like others… We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.”
Clinton’s words echo one of Oxfam’s recommendations for tackling the problem. While America provides half the world’s food aid, federal laws require the food to be purchased in the US and shipped on US vessels, doubling costs and slowing delivery. Instead, the US should provide cash for aid agencies to buy food locally—encouraging regional food production and helping to avert future disasters.
Of course, no quick fix can instantly solve the crisis. But changing the way we provide our food aid, and investing in developing country agriculture instead, would improve people’s lives—and cost us less. In a time with very few clear solutions, let’s hope that our next leader will make this one happen.