London – I feel a little sorry for President Bush. Whatever his other many failings, he has a pretty good record on aid to poor countries, particularly in healthcare. True to form, he recently announced a big increase in US food aid – good for the hungry poor and good for American farmers.
This was a faster response than some other countries have made to the global food crisis. After falling for more than 30 years, food prices have recently soared. The Economist’s food price index has risen to its highest level since it was started in 1845. As has happened throughout history, rocketing prices and shortages have caused riots from Bangladesh to Bolivia. The word for bread in Egypt is “aish,” which also means life. Threats to life bring crowds on to the streets.
What made me feel a little sorry for Bush was the reaction to his announcement. Bush referred to the reasons for shortages and price hikes. He did not dwell on the diversion of American corn from food to heavily subsidized bio-fuels. Nor did climate change feature prominently in his argument, although many experts suggest that this may be the cause of the droughts and floods that have ruined wheat harvests in Australia and vegetable oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Bush pointed his finger primarily elsewhere. Food prices had responded to growing demand. In Asia, economic growth had stimulated food consumption. The Chinese and Indians were eating more and eating better. Over a 20-year period, for example, the Chinese had doubled the amount of meat they eat.