Friday, April 11, 2008

Eating Mud

The word 'hunger' probably means to most of us that grinding sensation that means you need to get yourself to the refrigerator and choose from a lot of possibles exactly what you're going to eat. Last night I watched Newshour, and saw a report about Haiti which included a scene of making mudpies. Not child's play, but staving off hunger.

I have posted here before about the food shortages, and our need to take a personal role in our environment - such as gardening. That food is impossible for the very poor to afford at all isn't a prospect easy to investigate, but probably closer to us all than we imagine.

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a one-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is increasingly concerned about food prices, which are up as much as 40 percent on some Caribbean islands. Floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season forced the agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other countries.

Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Salines slum, two cups of rice now sell for $0.60, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

It isn't the experience we have every day, with markets full of more than we can consume, in the U.S. We are used to lower prices for what we buy there than we are experiencing at present, but our stores are full of goods.

Throughout the rest of the world, this is becoming ominously less the case. Where there is a supply, it is increasingly out of reach for the indigent.

Rice prices are set to keep rising as demand for the staple is outstripping production, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has said.

The Philippines-based body said in its Rice Today publication that more research was needed in how to increase rice productivity.

The price of rice has risen by as much as 70% during the past year, with increases accelerating in recent weeks.

Several rice-producing countries have put curbs on exports in recent weeks.

'Research needed'

"Longer term demand-supply imbalance is clearly indicated by depletion of stock that has been going on for several years," said Sushil Pandey, agricultural economist at the IRRI.

"We have been consuming more than what we have been producing and research to increase rice productivity is needed to address this imbalance."

World history has had episodes of this sort before, with the conclusion that cake is not an adequate substitute for bread. Incidentally, Versailles is a lovely place to visit, and the excesses of the French Revolution do not make access to great public services less attractive in that country, imho.

Earth Day is April 22, and it is past time to take seriously the crisis in food production that this earth is experiencing. On that date, we will be reminded that we are not forever going to experience plentiful food supplies. It shouldn't take any world bodies reminding us for us to see for ourselves.

Food riots have occurred in Haiti and a few African nations, brought on by hunger. The outbreaks of violence will be growing as food disappears. For our own well-being, we need to be aware, and begin taking appropriate steps such as using less energy, gardening, cutting back on car and airplane travel.


NTodd posted a site you may want to explore, for microfinance internationally, mainly small industry with lots of women trying to find a way to support their families:


From CNN's Planet in Peril site, Quick Vote;

What do you think is the greatest threat to the planet?
Global warming 29% 4843
Species loss 3% 508
Habitat loss 8% 1325
Overpopulation 60% 9995
Total Votes: 16671

I find it rather disheartening that more poll takers saw their fellow beings as the problem than saw major importance in protecting the environment. This a.m. in Eschaton comments, more than one person I apprised of this little vignette saw this as indicative of the popular fear of 'brown people'.

I suppose it might be enlightening to find out what measures the respondents would choose to eliminate the problem of overpopulation? I fear it might be what I suspect is the White House idea of ending our invasion of Iraq: attrition.

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Blogger shrimplate said...

Many, and in some cases most, of the calories in the foods we eat are ultimately derived from carbon-based fossil fuels. Whent aht runs out, food supplies will plummet.

10:05 AM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Pete Murphy said...

Ruth, your closing paragraph indicates that you believe that those concerned with overpopulation may be motivated by racism. I'll grant you that some racists use fear of overpopulation to advance their cause, but there are many others, like me, whose concern about overpopulation is rooted in concern for our environment and our quality of life/standard of living.

You suggested that we may actually favor war as a means of holding population growth in check. That's simply not true and an examination of population growth and world history will reveal that war has virtually no effect on the human population. You can't even find tiny blips in population that correspond with wars. If anything, war may be an outgrowth of overpopulation, since extreme population densitites are breeding grounds for hatred and intolerance. Consider the following list of very densely populated nations and their role in the last century of history: Germany, Japan, Korea, El Salvador, Rwanda, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.

What would be a humane solution? Well, for the U.S., reducing immigration to match our rate of emigration would be a good place to start. Next would be economic incentives to encourage smaller families. The U.S. currently uses tax policy to encourage larger families. Slight modification of tax policy may be all that's required.

At any rate, keep up the good work of raising concern about our environment!

Pete Murphy
Author, Five Short Blasts

6:41 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Hi, Pete, I was more put off by the choice of "overpopulation" as the big problem when another choice was "global warming". I don't think racism is the only factor that influences that choice, but am inclined to think that most who do not consider global warming the element most threatening us would incline toward seeing the third world as less important than their family's transportation. It is, to be sure, an assumption.

9:02 AM  

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