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Hunger Prompting Desperate Acts

Alison Raphael

WASHINGTON - An Afghan father, unable to feed his family, sold his 11-year old daughter for $2,000 to buy food for the rest of his family, IRIN News reported Sunday.0520 06 1

Illiterate and unable to find work, the man could no longer support his family by scavenging, he told a reporter for the UN-based news agency, because high food prices mean less food is being thrown away and more Afghans are scavenging.

"I know people will say I am a cruel and merciless father who sold his own child, but those who say so don't know my hardship and have never felt the hunger that my family suffers," said the Afghan man, identified only by a pseudonym.

Poor people across the planet tend to spend half their income on food, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Rising food prices are rapidly pushing the world's 100 million poorest citizens to the limit of their humanity.

In a policy brief issued Friday, IFPRI called for immediate implementation of a "comprehensive solution" consisting of two sets of emergency measures: short-term aid to help people weather the crisis, and a longer-term "resilience package," to enable the poor to become more self-sufficient.

To make food more available, IFPRI recommends that governments and other international agencies increase aid to areas where people cannot access food; eliminate all bans on agricultural exports and other similar restrictions; carry out rapid-impact food production programs; and change biofuel policies that replace food crops with those needed to produce ethanol.

In addition, IFPRI urges governments to "empower" small-scale farmers by providing low cost seed, fertilizer, credit, and technical assistance, enabling them to produce at maximum levels. Such a move would increase incomes and food availability, the authors of the briefing paper point out.

The recommendations also include: taking steps to end speculation in agricultural commodities; stepping up agricultural research; and introducing or expanding "social protection" programs that provide food or cash to the neediest and most vulnerable members of society.

"We are in the midst of a global food crisis unlike other food crises we have faced, not caused by natural disasters, conflict, or drought. It is not localized -- instead it is pervasive and widespread, affecting the poor in developing countries around the world," according to testimony by Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

U.S. President George W. Bush has asked Congress to approve $770 million in new funds to address the food crisis. Fore asked for another $225 million to support nutritional interventions, increase access to farm inputs (such as seed and fertilizer), and monitor need.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) delivers food aid around the world, especially in 12 countries with chronic emergencies. Ten are in Africa; the other two are Afghanistan -- where 2.5 million people cannot afford bread or other wheat-based foodstuffs -- and the occupied Palestinian territories, where 1.5 million people regularly go hungry and the price of tomatoes rose by 156 percent in April alone.

Agencies such as WFP are also feeling the pinch. With global food prices up 40 percent since last June, WFP says the cost of food aid projects planned for 2008 has already risen by $500 million. WFP supplies food to school children and pays the unemployed to work on infrastructure projects, among other programs.

Nigeria is already taking tentative steps in line with the IFPRI recommendations. The government announced Friday the cancellation of its plan to import 50,000 tons of rice, and is instead providing $85 million in credits to boost domestic rice production. Some 91 million Nigerians don't have enough food.

In South Africa, where food prices are also spiraling out of the reach of the majority, several refugees and immigrants have been killed or injured in clashes with citizens who claim that foreigners are taking their jobs and food.

Natural disasters are also contributing to the crisis. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were counting on importing some 600,000 of the 18 million tons of rice produced in Myanmar's Irawaddy Delta. Cyclone Nargis destroyed some 200 square acres of prime production land in Myanmar's "rice bowl," according to UN experts.

© 2008 One World

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