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What Blocks the Basic Human Right to Food When There’s Enough Land Plus BioTechnology to Supply It?

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Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care according to article 25 of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Fine words, but more than 60 years on hundreds of thousands still face malnutrition, near-starvation and inadequate shelter and not only in the developing world.

For a significant part of the year the UK, for example, is a cold country so those living on inadequate incomes are faced with a choice between buying enough food and staying warm.

About two million pensioners (18%) live below the poverty line (a weekly income of & pound;115 for single pensioners and £199 for a couple) and 11% of pensioners are in persistent poverty (below the poverty line for at least 3 out of the last 4 years).

From 2004 to 2008, average gas bills rose by 55% in real terms, and electricity bills by 42% so that by 2009, fuel bills averaged £1,239 a year.

In the winter of 2007/8, there were an estimated 24,995 excess winter deaths of people aged 65 and by December to March 2008/09 the figure had risen by 49% to 36,700

It’s not only the elderly who are affected. According to UK’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation in December 2009, the number of people living in low-income households is now 13.4 million (in a population of approximately 60 million) and is now at its highest level since 2000.

That’s bad enough but many would argue it’s nothing compared to the extremes of hunger and poverty in other parts of the world.

199 for a couple) and 11% are below the poverty line for at least 3 out of the last 4 years – in persistent poverty.25 and $2 per day and most recent figures (2005) calculated that about 1.4 billion people in the developing world (one in four) were living on less than $1.25 a day

It describes poverty graphically: Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor….. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water and, above all…… Poverty is lack of representation, powerlessness and lack of freedom.

It boils down to having to make unacceptable choices between food and warmth, food and shelter, food and health, wherever we are, or at worst having no choices at all.

Access to food is the most crucial – It’s not surprising, therefore, that over the two years since the onset of the global economic crisis fears about food scarcity and security have arisen.

Why should this still be so when there is evidence that the world could sustain its people adequately even allowing for a global population predicted to reach 9,309,051,539 by 2050?

The way resources are managed is the answer. Hunger and food are issues of economic power not only in the individual’s ability to get enough to eat but also for farmers’ access to water, to low-chem agricultural products, such as biopesticides, to the training and means to farm sustainably and to getting produce to market.

Vince Cable, (UK Liberal Democrat Chief Economic Spokesman at the time of writing) in Storm, his book about the global economic crisis, describes what happened to commodity prices like grain in 2007-08.

Demand for food had risen dramatically before 2007, especially in the booming economies of India and China, which were lifting more poeple out of absolute poverty.

From 2007 maize prices rose by 50%, wheat and vegetable oil prices doubled and rice prices almost trebled, he says. By the beginning of August 2008 food prices overall were 40% up on the previous year.

Also farmland, particularly in the USA, was switched from growing food grains to biofuels as a result of concern about the energy crisis and carbon emissions. Meanwhile yield improvements have slowed partly because there’s a limit to available new usable land in developing countries with growing populations.

Consequently world food stocks went down from 120 days in 2000 to 60 days in 2008. Food exporting countries cut exports to protect domestic stocks and countries that had traditionally limited food imports to protect their farmers opened up imports to meet domestic shortages.

The result was commodity price speculation on the stock markets. Food price rises hit urban dwellers disproportionately and the result, according to Cable, has been deepening poverty and malnutrition as, yet again, the poorest were priced out of the food market.

It all supports the view of the Indian economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen that famine and hunger are caused by lack of income, not by shortages of food.

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