Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Previews of Coming Attractions 

From the remote, poverty-wracked isle of Haiti . . .
Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the lives of six people . . . .

Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port au Prince, told journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are “like toothpicks” they’ re not getting enough nourishment. Before, if you had a dollar twenty-five cents, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a little cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65 cents, and is not good rice at all. Oil is 25 cents. Charcoal is 25 cents. With a dollar twenty-five, you can’t even make a plate of rice for one child.”

The St. Claire’s Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of Port au Prince, serves 1000 free meals a day, almost all to hungry children -- five times a week in partnership with the What If Foundation. Children from Cite Soleil have been known to walk the five miles to the church for a meal. The cost of rice, beans, vegetables, a little meat, spices, cooking oil, propane for the stoves, have gone up dramatically. Because of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are now smaller. But hunger is on the rise and more and more children come for the free meal. Hungry adults used to be allowed to eat the leftovers once all the children were fed, but now there are few leftovers . . . .

The Cato Institute recently reported that rice is one of the most heavily supported commodities in the U.S. -- with three different subsidies together averaging over $1 billion a year since 1998 and projected to average over $700 million a year through 2015. The result? “Tens of millions of rice farmers in poor countries find it hard to lift their families out of poverty because of the lower, more volatile prices caused by the interventionist policies of other countries.”

In addition to three different subsidies for rice farmers in the U.S., there are also direct tariff barriers of 3 to 24 percent, reports Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute -- the exact same type of protections, though much higher, that the U.S. and the IMF required Haiti to eliminate in the 1980s and 1990s.
. . . to the dark, distant corners of the strife-torn third world . . .
Samake Bakary sells rice from wooden basins at Abobote market in the northern suburbs of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. He points to a bowl of broken Thai rice which, at 400 CFA francs (roughly $1) per kilogram, is the most popular variety. On a good day he used to sell 150 kilos. Now he is lucky to sell half that. “People ask the price and go away without buying anything,” he complains. In early April they went away and rioted: two days of violence persuaded the government to postpone planned elections . . . .

[F]ood riots have erupted in countries all along the equator. In Haiti, protesters chanting “We’re hungry” forced the prime minister to resign; 24 people were killed in riots in Cameroon; Egypt’s president ordered the army to start baking bread; the Philippines made hoarding rice punishable by life imprisonment . . . .

Last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16% (see chart 1). These were some of the sharpest rises in food prices ever. But this year the speed of change has accelerated. Since January, rice prices have soared 141%; the price of one variety of wheat shot up 25% in a day.

In Cameroon, 24 people have been killed in food riots since February, while in Haiti, protesters chanting, "We're hungry" forced the prime minister to resign this month.

In the past month, there have been food riots in Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Madagascar.

The World Bank now believes that some 33 countries are in danger of being destabilised by food price inflation, while Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, said that higher food prices risked wiping out progress towards reducing poverty and could harm global growth and security.
. . . to the fabled realm of exotic Japan . . .
MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare . . . .

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term — perhaps permanent — reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest — a 30% increase this month — has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.
. . . to the outermost reaches of faraway . . . Silicon Valley?
At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

"Where's the rice?" an engineer from Palo Alto, Calif., Yajun Liu, said. "You should be able to buy something like rice. This is ridiculous."

The bustling store in the heart of Silicon Valley usually sells four or five varieties of rice to a clientele largely of Asian immigrants, but only about half a pallet of Indian-grown Basmati rice was left in stock. A 20-pound bag was selling for $15.99.

"You can't eat this every day. It's too heavy," a health care executive from Palo Alto, Sharad Patel, grumbled as his son loaded two sacks of the Basmati into a shopping cart. "We only need one bag but I'm getting two in case a neighbor or a friend needs it," the elder man said.

The Patels seemed headed for disappointment, as most Costco members were being allowed to buy only one bag. Moments earlier, a clerk dropped two sacks back on the stack after taking them from another customer who tried to exceed the one-bag cap.

"Due to the limited availability of rice, we are limiting rice purchases based on your prior purchasing history," a sign above the dwindling supply said.
. . . to Fresno, Fullerton, and Yuba City??
Sam's Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, is limiting sales of the 20-pound (9 kg), bulk bags of rice to four bags per customer per visit, and is working with suppliers to ensure the products remain in stock . . . .

With prices for basic food items surging, customers have been going to the clubs to try to save money on bulk sizes of everything from pasta to cooking oil and rice.

Sam's Club said it is not limiting sales of flour or cooking oil at this time.
. . . to San Fran-Frickin'-Cisco???
Around the region, grocery stores reported having completely run out of their supplies of [matzo] for Passover, the weeklong observance that began Saturday evening.

Safeway, Whole Foods, Lunardi's, Lucky and Mollie Stone stores were among those that reported selling out of their supply of the unleavened bread. A reporter's calls found matzo-less stores in San Francisco, San Rafael, Oakland, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Berkeley and Palo Alto. Even stores that specialize in Jewish products, such as Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley, said they'd run dry. Most grocers said the shelves emptied Friday or Saturday.
Our main feature, James Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand, will begin presently, but there is still time to purchase a snack at our concession stand. Do not attempt to cut in line. Take a number, join the queue, comport yourself in an orderly fashion, and have your cash or barter goods ready when you reach the counter. We assure you, there will be plenty of popcornette to go around as long as no one exceeds his quota.

Remember, the ushers are armed.

(We are indebted to Zemblan patriots K.Z., J.D., and B.K. for the links.)

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