Drawing Lessons from the 2008 World Food Crisis
Jomo Kwame Sundaram1
THE FOOD PRICE SPIKE OF EARLY 2008
Lack of food is rarely the reason people go hungry.2 Even now, there is enough food in the world, with a bumper harvest this year, but many more people cannot afford to buy the food they need. Even before the recent food price spikes, an estimated billion people were suffering from chronic hunger, while another two billion were experiencing malnutrition, bringing the total number of food-insecure people to around three billion, or almost half the world’s population. The recent sharp increases in food prices are likely to drive the number of people vulnerable to food stress even higher, with at least another 100 million likely to be chronically hungry. Even before these price spikes, about 18,000 children died daily on average as a direct or indirect consequence of malnutrition.3
The rapid and simultaneous rise in world prices for all basic food crops—corn (maize), wheat, soybeans, and rice—along with other foods like cooking oils is having a devastating effect on poor people all over the world. The effects have been felt around the world by all except the truly wealthy. Almost everybody’s standard of living has been reduced as the middle class becomes increasingly careful about its food purchases, the near poor drop into poverty, and the poor suffer even more. With increased hunger and malnutrition, the young, old, infirm, and other vulnerable groups will die prematurely or be harmed in other ways.
It is useful to distinguish between longer-term and more recent developments in trying to understand and address the current global food crisis.