Rice Riots

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pedro Sanchez, director of tropical agriculture at The Earth Institute at Columbia University and co-chair of the Hunger Task Force for the Millenium Project, and Gawain Kripke, policy director at Oxfam, and Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor-publisher of the Haitian Times, talk about the global food shortage, what countries are affected--and why.


Gawain Kripke, Garry Pierre-Pierre and Pedro Sanchez

Comments [32]

Gustavo from Whitestone, NY

Brain how about a segment on the different types of biofuels? Is sugarcane better than corn? How about biowaste as biofuel? Can biofuel coexist with food cultivation?

We hear a lot about the corn but I suspect that is only because of the strong corn lobby in the US.

Apr. 13 2008 10:10 PM
Owen from Rochester

Brian, thanks so much for your good coverage so far of this critical issue. I wonder, though, if you'll get into the more controversial aspects of this situation. Is the word "neo-colonialism" going to come up? Because the fact that countries like the Philipinnes and Burkina Faso are only producing inedible exports, and then importing their staples, gets us into some pretty heavy criticisms of the WTO, the WB, the Washington Consensus, etc. People will call you a communist and worse, but I think you need to talk about the large-scale economic models that have produced this situation.

Apr. 10 2008 01:39 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


Your right, OPEC does not actually refine fuel. But you would be quite naive to think they don’t have a political say as to what gets refined and what does not…

As I said Tier 3, 4 and 5 diesel engines produce less green house gases then gasoline by running much hotter and using a catalytic converter (not used before)that burns away all the soot previous generation diesel engines produced. Europe wanted to do this by using additives. The EPA told engine manufactures they had to do it mechanically because there have been some real bad experiences with additives in gasoline. That being said, even though all new cars, trucks and anything that uses a diesel engine must use this technology, there is still a lot of old equipment in use that does not conform to new stringent requirements. But you have to start some were. The biggest pollution reducer was the catalytic converter for gas engines that became mandatory in 1976. Not everyone bought a new car over night but it did lead to the biggest pollution reduction for cars to date.

Apr. 10 2008 11:52 AM
Mike from NYC

Getting back to food: There is no food shortage. More food is now produced than at any time in history. There are simply too many people.

I'm surprised that no one has replied: "There is enough food to feed all the people, it's just not equitably distributed."

There is so much food being produced today that this level of production is not sustainable. Huge swaths of land where only one plant grows (corn, soybeans, etc) allow parasites to spread more easily, increasing reliance on chemical pesticides that are then in the drinking water. Increased yeilds deplete the soil and require chemical fertilizers. The oceans are being fished out.

There are simply too many people.

We can solve our problems with birth control and have a chance at peace and prosperity or through war, starvation and disease. What will we choose? What are we choosing?

Apr. 10 2008 11:40 AM
Mike from NYC

FYI, Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ:

(1) OPEC does not produce diesel fuel. Oil refiners use oil to make either deisel or gasoline.

(2) Diesel fuel is less refined than gasoline. That's why it produces MORE greenhouse gases. It would be even worse to burn unrefined oil. The more refined the oil is, the less polluting it is.

Apr. 10 2008 11:30 AM
Chris O from New York

I agree with you ab about Katie's comments. But I think Joan comes in a close second. Her heart may be in the right place but it seems like she wants to turn the whole world into people like us.

Joan, have you considered whether our education system may be a failure? Maybe it just turns out productive citizens that don't question what they are doing. With 5% of the world's population, we spend 50% of all the world's military dollars. How would we teach this to the citizens of the world?! The same way we teach our own: by not teaching it?

If I lived in a any of a number of countries I will not name, it would be perfectly reasonable to consider the US to be the terrorists. I mean, we are the ones bombing them, often with no proper cause. The innocent victims of our violence are very numerous. I think before your solution to educate the world into US-loving productive citizens, perhaps changing our foreign policies will go a long way to minimizing the terrorist threat.

Apr. 10 2008 11:21 AM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

KC O'Neill

Yes, diesel fuel is not widely used for cars in America. But literally every vehicle that is not a car in America (most freight locomotives, trucks, buses, farm equipment, construction equipment, forestry equipment, fire trucks, etc, etc…) and all houses and buildings heated by heating oil use diesel fuel. For fossil fuels, it’s superior over gasoline. It takes less refinement to produce and with Tier 3, 4 and 5 diesel engines, it pollutes less then gasoline and has always produced less green house gases then gasoline. It also gets superior gas mileage over gasoline and can produce better overall gas mileage then gasoline powered hybrids. We really should have a lot more diesel powered cars in this country.

The reason for the diesel fuel shortage is the high demand for diesel fuel by European passenger cars. If OPEC does not start producing more soon, everything will go up in price.

Apr. 10 2008 11:20 AM
Mike from NYC

Perhaps there are simply too many people.

There are more people alive today than have died throughout history. How can this not create ecological havoc? The human race is destroying the habitats other species reply on in order to increase food production to solve hunger, but how many years does it take for the world's population to double? It passed 3 billion in the early 1960s and 6 billion before the year 2000.

I don't understand why people cannot limit their numbers. Are they afraid that they won't have enough friends? Is the idea of telling people they can't have as many children as they can spawn too socially unacceptable, especially now that women are finally starting to control their reproductive lives?

Apr. 10 2008 11:15 AM

Katie, win the prize for most ridiculous, ignorant, ethnocentricly condescending comment of the day!

How exactly would this sovereign country who was the first to revolt and throw off the chains of colonization become a state? By force? By in effect being colonized again? is that what you are advocating?

No they don't "need" that to happen, it's a bit extreme of a suggestion at best. What would have helped Haiti was to be left alone by the U.S. and Europe after they got their independence (but starting with that moral hypocrite Jefferson they were not)

I don't think they need more of the kind of "help" you are suggesting.

Look up your history before you make such silly right-wing ugly american comments. Thanks!

Apr. 10 2008 11:05 AM
Joan Rosenfelt from New York

(This is a continuation of my first note...)
In other words, if the United States had taken all the money - or even a PORTION of it - they've spent on the Iraq war, supposedly against radical terrorists, and instead had installed a FREE SYSTEM OF SCHOOLING in all of these Muslim countries - we could have nipped this terrible Hothouse of Young Radicals in the bud!!!
It's tragic - but not hopless. Let's get ENLIGHTENED and help these third world countries CHANGE THEIR SYSTEM - so that all of their children can be EDUCATED - at the cost of the STATE - and can JOIN THE REST OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD - NOT AS RADICALS & TERRORISTS - BUT AS EDUCATED, PRODUCTIVE CITIZENS!!!!!
I'd sure love to see you do a program on THIS, Brian.
Joan Rosenfelt
New York

Apr. 10 2008 10:57 AM
Joan Rosenfelt from New York

Your discussion touched on a major topic of importance in the world today, Brian - THE COST OF SCHOOLING IN VERY POOR COUNTRIES. The amazing thing is, IT FALLS TO THE (usually very, very poor) INDIVIDUAL TO COME UP WITH THE FUNDS!!! What kind of a crazy system is that?! I heard (I don't know her first name) ....Bhutto - a niece, I believe, of Benazir Bhutto - speaking about the situation in Pakistan and she mentioned how the RADICAL Madrassah schools APPEAR to be a blessing to families because they provide schooling along with food and clothing for children - and so the very poor parents happily send their children off to become, ultimately, CRAZED RADICALS, as "educated" in these "sponsored schools."
In other words, the EDUCATION SYSTEM (or LACK of a FREE one) is the ROOT of the problem with creating a perennially renewed stream of Radical Islamists!!!
(To be continued in next e-mail...)

Apr. 10 2008 10:56 AM
Chris O from New York

Beware Masters of the Universe: "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose"

Apr. 10 2008 10:44 AM
hjs from 11211

how soon will it be before the resource wars comes to north america?

Apr. 10 2008 10:43 AM

Folks in Gaza Strip have more than 5 babies average per mom and grow almost no food.

Food politics Ground Zero.

Apr. 10 2008 10:43 AM
KC O'Neill from Manhattan

Quick note on the diesel fuel: it's very commonly used in cars in lots of countries, just not much in the US.

Apr. 10 2008 10:39 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Amen, Liz. Somewhere some Chicago School economist is talking about breaking some eggs to make an omelette...

Apr. 10 2008 10:37 AM
Liz from brooklyn

This is what happens when you let markets run amok.

Apr. 10 2008 10:34 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

C'mon, Katie -- Haiti was the first slave colony to attain their own freedom. The European -- and American, thanks to Thos. Jefferson -- panic over black self-rule kept them down for centuries. They don't "need" to be a state. They need to be respected...tho it may be too late for that.

Apr. 10 2008 10:34 AM

Not enough food or too many people?

Apr. 10 2008 10:33 AM
BR from manhattan

Obama will make sure NOONE ever goes hungry.

Obama will come to your house, deliver food to you personally, and then cook dinner for you and your family.

Apr. 10 2008 10:33 AM
Chris O from New York

mike if you think this is sensationalist and irresponsible news coverage, i don't know where you are from - that seems like a really out of touch claim; if you think these stories attract ratings, i think you could not be more wrong

Apr. 10 2008 10:32 AM
dara b. from Brooklyn


Apr. 10 2008 10:31 AM
Katie from Forest Hills

Haiti has always needed aid and been one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It needs to be a state of the US or England so they can help feed them or teach them to be self-sustaining.

Apr. 10 2008 10:31 AM

i thought the geography of haiti was a major problem because the land is hilly, and there isn't enough of best arable soil ... very low level of subsistence farming ... so that would mean haiti has to import a lot of food staples from u.s. ??

Apr. 10 2008 10:25 AM

didn't mexico have demonstrations recently about the rising cost of corn

Apr. 10 2008 10:21 AM
john from upper west side

how much of the inflation in africa is caused by bad government, closing down productive farms for political reasons and warfare. Does it make sence to support this behvior if rogue governments that do nothing to help subdue the violance?

Apr. 10 2008 10:20 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

It's completely sensationalist and irresponsible to refer to this as a "global food shortage". It's a combination of inflation in corn, and local shortfalls in rice production in various places. While the US especially should intervene to keep people from starving, pumping up a "food shortage" will just discourage export and panic. "Food Riots" make great for the news business, but let's not try to make them happen.

Apr. 10 2008 10:20 AM
Alex from NYC

why are we talking about food & hunger issues of all over the world.

1 out of 5 New-Yorkers go hungry.

after the "food-stamps" we have over 1,000 food-pantries and 300 soup-kitchen.

it's just easier to talk about this problem as a foreign one.

Apr. 10 2008 10:18 AM
Fernando from Midtown, NY

As populist as Chávez might have sounded, he WARNED Latinamerica and the world that food shortages were imminent due to:
1. Use of extensive land and food staples for biofuel production in Brazil, US and other countries.
2. US "Free trade agreements" enable heavily-subsidized corporations to undermine local food production, and turn native populations into consumers of US agricultural products.

Apr. 10 2008 10:15 AM

In Vietnam it is perfectly acceptable to eat bugs and rats. It is also unacceptable to be fat. Their food security is secure.

Apr. 10 2008 10:14 AM

We would never burn crops or dead dinos as fuel to heat our house. Instead we use abandoned foreclosed houses.

We are also considering those empty Chinese shipping containers but so far can't figure out how to get them into our stove.

Apr. 10 2008 10:12 AM
Chris O from New York

I suppose using waste for fuel seems OK but we must forswear biofuels. We should not be puting crops in our cars! Not only is it really energy INefficient, but it is morally questionable based on these food shortages and price increases.

Both Obama and Clinton want to greatly increase biofuels. This is not good. It is probably largely due to Iowa's caucus...

Apr. 10 2008 09:28 AM

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