If you have visited your local grocery store lately, you will not have escaped noticing the rising price for food. Unless you are living on the edge of the poverty in North America or Europe, however, this increase is easily measurable but still bearable. Many of us adapt by searching for a cheaper item or we forgo the purchase.
We survive. In fact, very few people in the more developed parts of the world starve. An extensive social welfare system in most countries protects us from that.
But for those who live in the Horn of Africa the rising prices can be fatal. There more than 12 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, and 40% of children under five are suffering from acute malnutrician. I have already written about this crisis before, so I will not belabor those facts and the great need that exists there.
My concern today is to examine these rising prices with the famine in part of Africa. I will show that there is a connection.
These rising prices are a global phenomenon. While the global food prices were reasonable throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they have been climbing steadily since 2000. Global food prices reached a historic high in February of this year, surpassing the spikes of 2007-2008, which were then the highest in 20 years.
And while the current prices are in part related to bad weather in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, other significant factors are high energy prices, increasing use of grain for biofuels in the U.S.and elsewhere, and export restrictions on food.
Food prices in Somalia are now often three times as high as the normal, making these goods inaccessible to much of the population.
Finally, large land leases (or "land grabs") to foreign governments and corporations in the Horn have further exacerbated this problem. These farms, designed solely for export production, effectively subsidise the food security of other regions of the world (most notably the Middle East and Asia) at the expense of local populations.
The problem is not the growth in population, as postulated by the British philosopher Thomas Malthus in "An Essay on the Principle of Population" in 1798. Since then people have been concerned that human population growth will outstrip the available food supply.
But that is not the case in the Horn of Africa. They lack access to contraceptives, but most Somalis need children since they are a crucial source of farm labor and an important source of family income. They also provide a social security system.
For these families having fewer children is, therefore, not an option at present. Yet as their economic situation improves, they too will eventually have fewer children.
Thus over-population cannot be blamed as the major reason for the current famine. Nor can drought by itself be ascribed as the chief source of the problem. There are many causes, and no single factor alone can explain it entirely.
The main reason for this famine is the high price of food worldwide. This is intensifying a recurrent problem. The shortages and record prices have exacerbated the drought, and all the other factors mentioned thus far.
"The famine in the Horn of Africa is a result of artificially high prices for food and civil conflict than natural and environmental causes. This crisis is man-made. Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine."