Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Global Food Crisis and President Bush

With the rise in gas prices food prices has been hitting the roof globally. There have been food riots and rebellions in several third world nations in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Like a phoenix rising out of nothing the “knowledgeable” American president made a statement that Indian middle class is responsible for the global food crisis. To quote his exact words from a Washington Post article: India, where the “middle class is larger than our entire population." But "when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food," he said. "And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.”

Like most Indians living worldwide my first reaction was that of outrage and anger at the irresponsible statements of the American president. I then decided to go to the root of the problem and find out for real if India’s prosperity had anything to do with the global food crisis and what is America’s role in this problem. My findings were astounding and throw a light on who is actually responsible for the global food crisis.

In this essay I would like to start off by comparing the resources of two nations India and US. I have chosen these two nations because the president of the latter accused the citizens of the former of eating too much and causing a global food crisis. Let us get to the basics first:

Total Population:
301 million
India: 1,129 million (1.2 billion)

Land available for agriculture
938.28 million acres (Source: Economic Research Service, USA)
India: 445.95 million acres (54.9 percent of total land area of 3,287,263 sq. km or 812.30 million acres) (Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations)

Total food wastage:
Almost 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year. The annual value of this lost food is estimated at around $31 billion. (49 million people could have been fed by those lost resources) - Sound Vision
In the US 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten - Global Issues
27 percent of the food available for consumption (about a pound of food every day for every American) ends up in garbage. - Dallas Morning News
India: Wastage of harvested food items is estimated to be valued around Rs.58,000 crore (US$ 13.80 billion) per annum. - One India

Obesity trends:
US: Nearly 237 million Americans are currently overweight. The U.S. is the 9th fattest nation in the world.
India: India ranks 176 among the world’s fattest nations and has 16% obese population (180.64 million)
Source: Forbes

Keeping the above statistics in mind I would like to elaborate on how much food gets wasted and where all they are being scrapped in the US. I read this article titled “One country's table scraps is another country's meal” by New York Times writer Andrew Martin in Dallas Morning News recently and was spurred to write this blog post.

  • Across several parts of the US there is already a serious hatred about India and Indians which has stemmed from outsourcing. People hate India because of several reasons:
    Several people in the US lost jobs to better qualified and hardworking and cheaper Indian employees.
  • Next when TATA Motors launched its fuel efficient Nano aka the people’s car, American’s driving hyper-polluting, fuel guzzling cars said millions of Indians will buy Tata Nanos and there will be a global fuel crisis.
  • Now with Bush saying that rising prosperity of Indian middle classes is one of the causes of the global food crisis, this fire of hatred is getting fanned. And every time an American shops for grocery, it would not be uncommon for him/ her to be cursing Indians for rising prices.

Well these facts are not real and I have already proved in my blog post about “Who Gets the Fuel?” how Nano is not the threat to world’s petroleum reserves but the fuel-guzzling big V-8’s and V-6 cars are!

According to the article by Andrew Martin, a US government study estimated that “an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study – and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American”.

The main wastage happens at several places and due to several reasons. At grocery stores produce is discarded into trash because of minor spoilage or even cosmetic blemishes. According to a US Department of Agriculture estimate two years ago, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. This food that was wasted includes fresh vegetables and fruits, milk, grains, etc. But the study didn’t include ready-to-eat foods that are stacked high in super market shelves.

Several studies have proved time and again that Americans are the world’s largest trash generators. A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency recently declared that highest food wasters in the world are also Americans, who generate about 30 million tons of food waste year after year.

I am not saying that Indians don’t waste any food, but it is relatively lower and considering a population of 1.2 billion the amount of food wasted is normal.

According to a US Department of Agriculture estimate, if only 5 percent of the wasted food were to be recovered/ prevented, it could feed 4 million people a day and if this recovery were to be increased to 25 percent, it would feed 20 million people.

Food recovery and Why it is not happening now?
During Clinton’s administration, a national effort was launched to prevent/ curb food waste. One of the initiatives was to recover leftover crops from fields. But the effort was discontinued by the Bush administration.

And President Bush says that Indians are responsible for the global food crisis. Can he get any more stupid?

No comments: