Friday, March 28, 2008

Short of money = Short of food

At the risk of being seen as the boy who cried wolf once too often , another article about the pending effects of rising food prices has come to our attention and one distinctive feature of the article is its mention of the influence on the middle classes , another example of the proletarianisation of them .

“Everything is very expensive - we are now living on borrowed money,” Towela Ngwira, a shopper at a market in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, told IRIN. “For us it is no longer hand-to-mouth but hand-to-hand because all the money we get has to be given to someone else [from whom we borrowed]...We are now surviving on dry foods such as Kapenta [sardines], dry fish, and dry beans, because fresh foods are very expensive. We have even stopped buying bread for breakfast - it’s too expensive for us.”

This week South Africa, the regional economic giant, released figures showing the annual consumer price index for food, a measure of food price inflation, had increased to 14.1 percent. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation , the global picture is even bleaker: FAO’s global food price index rose 40 percent in 2007 compared to 9 percent in 2006. The causes are global. Worldwide food stocks have hit historic lows, while demand has never been higher. The combination has resulted in prices of basic staples such as wheat, corn and rice hitting record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months.

According to André Jooste, senior manager of market and economic research at South Africa’s National Agricultural Marketing Council, although the poor are inevitably the hardest hit, even professional urbanites are beginning to feel the squeeze. “The middle-class will start changing their buying patterns, moving away from special products to cheaper alternatives. They will have to” he said.

In Malawi’s southern town of Zomba, Harrison Kumwenda has seen the produce from his one and a half acre plot fall by more than half. He blames a combination of expensive fertiliser, and the weather.
“We were buying a bag of 50kg of maize at the price of K800 (US$ 5.8) in December but the vendors are selling a bag of 50kg at K3,000 (US$ 22) which is very high”.

In Zambia, the authorities “have decided to restrict the export of maize only to countries that have active contracts with us until we ascertain the quantity of maize stocks in the country,” Sara Sayifwanda, Zambia’s minister of agriculture, told IRIN. “It is important for us to take precautions because we don’t know as yet how exactly this harvest season will be; we may have maize shortages in certain places.”

Peter Cottan, vice president of the Millers Association of Zambia, said some millers had started hoarding their maize stocks in anticipation of a shortage. “We expect the prices to even go higher,” he said.

The Basic Needs Basket, an index of market prices compiled monthly by a local faith-based think-tank, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR) in Zambia, has shown an unprecedented increase in the cost of basic food items: the average monthly cost rose by 10 percent from January to February.
“The obvious and common underlying factor... has to do with how much is available on the market,” JCTR spokesperson, Miniva Chibuye, explained. “The current upward trends in food prices pose serious challenges to human development and require that strategic planning and responses begin now.”

Of course , the position of Socialist Banner is that the capitalist system is inadequate to plan or respond to its own inherent failings of supply and distribution , an explanation which can be summed up as "Those who can't pay , can't have "

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