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Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

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Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern


Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, deadly rioting broke out across Haiti and Egypt, where rampaging inflation has driven up the price of food. The United Nations estimates that the cost of food in those countries has nearly doubled in the last two years.

In Egypt, bread is said to be so scarce that in some places it is sold behind a barricaded wall. The 9,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in Haiti have been ordered not to fire on civilians while widespread looting and violence continues.

The G7 met in Washington, D.C. on Friday to address instability in the global economy, but many analysts seem skeptical about how effective that group will be at steadying inflation.

Bettina Luescher is the chief North American spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program and she joins us from our studios in New York. Bettina, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. BETTINA LUESCHER (Chief North American Spokeswoman, United Nations World Food Program): Thank you so much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what are some of the causes that you can list that seem to be driving up the price of food around the world?

Ms. LUESCHER: Well, we are seeing a perfect storm. Several factors are coming together. One is the rise in oil and energy prices, and of course energy and fuel is very important to transport food. Then we've got an economic boom in some of the developing countries like India and China, and they are exporting much more food, cereals for example, than in the past. And we have climate change, and we see the effects of that: more droughts, more floods, and that means much worse harvests.

Australia, for example, has lost several harvests, and we have the competition between food and fuel. Many farmers have shifted from wheat to corn. So we see the lowest food reserves in some 30 years in the world.

SIMON: Let me follow up a bit on the biofuels question because you saw - I think they would count as an unexpected agreement, maybe, between Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, and for example Paul Krugman, the columnist, who each seem to think that biofuels, or the success of biofuels in the past few years, is in fact contributing as a major cause of the price of food increasing.

Ms. LUESCHER: Yes. I mean, we don't want to, you know, categorize the biofuels as either good or bad, but what we are really seeing is it's part of the market speculation that is going on. Sometimes farmers are betting that that will be a much better investment, and some of the foods could have been used for foods and are now being used for fuel.

SIMON: Mr. Zoellick also said that globalization is changing what people eat, and that's changing sort of the task of the world food supply.

Ms. LUESCHER: Yeah. We're seeing, for example in China that since that country has grown and developed so much and has seen such an economic boom that people are demanding much higher quality foods.

They are moving from rice, much more for example, and now also want to have meats. So that's another effect that you're seeing.

SIMON: What do you see as the options for the World Food Program and, let's say, the industrialized states in the world?

Ms. LUESCHER: The most important thing is now to get money so we can do the aid operations on the ground. In the long run, we're looking also at safety nets, and one thing that we at the World Food Program are doing, which is a very, very successful program, is school feeding.

It costs 25 cents a day to feed a child in school, $50 a year, and that is one of the long-term things where we think that from the richer countries, much more money should be spent on programs like that, so that we can have a long-term impact in the field.

SIMON: Bettina Luescher, chief North American spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Program, thanks so much.

Ms. LUESCHER: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And you can hear reports on the causes and consequences of the world food crisis all next week on MORNING EDITION and WEEKEND EDITION.

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