Are you worried about rising food prices?

The prices of basic foodstuffs – like wheat, rice and corn – have soared over the last year, hitting the pockets and bellies of people in communities all over the world. And the increased cost of grain means it’s more expensive to feed the livestock that provide us with meat and dairy products… Many people are now talking about a global food crisis – with no end in sight.

The increased cost of sustenance has provoked riots and protests in many parts of the world – most recently in Haiti, where at at least four people were killed last week in food-related unrest. And many of the major grain-producing nations are imposing restrictions on exports to protect domestic supplies.

Are you worried about rising food costs? Are you finding it difficult to feed your family, or, if you’re a farmer involved in raising animals or the food trade, are you feeling the pinch? Have you been involved in or affected by protests about the price of staples?

What do you think is to blame? Bad weather? The cultivation of biofuels that gobble up land which might be used to grow food? The changing diet of the Chinese and Indians? (It’s well-known that their growing demand for meat and dairy-products is a strain on grain supplies, because of the grain needed to feed farm animals.) Or a combination of many factors?

And how should the world address the problem? Is it right for national governments to introduce protectionist trade measures? Should they ban the cultivation of land for biofuels rather than food? What role should international organisations play? Or do we all need to change the way we eat?

31 Responses to “Are you worried about rising food prices?”

  1. 1 steve
    April 8, 2008 at 15:19

    The more people there are, and given that land is finite, means that food prices will only go up. Then again, I’m sure we’ll find a way to kill off a significant portion of each other.

  2. 2 gary
    April 8, 2008 at 15:49

    Hello All,
    Humanity has used fossil sunlight (oil) to produce lots of people (by producing lots of food). So what surprise is it that oil futures are up and simultaneously food is expensive? You think current food prices are high? Wait a few years until oil has passed its peak production and the world’s population is up another billion or two. Remember, there is no such thing as a “free lunch.”
    So, yes, I am worried.

  3. 3 George USA
    April 8, 2008 at 16:24

    Food prices only concern me when I am hungry.

    American Supermarkets are wonders to behold: filled to over flowing with an incredible variety of food and produce.

    The magnificent food distribution system of the USA has an Achilles heel: it is supplied via truck on demand- po from the stores as needed.

    Anything that shuts down the trucking system, fuel, storm, pandemic, war, or some other I cannot imagine, shuts down supply of food getting to the stores,

    We have only seen this on a tiny scale with hurricanes where the stores are stripped of food in hours, but after the storm are refilled in a few days.

    Anyone who has seen this knows food supply in the USA, however beautiful and plentiful, is also delicate and fuel dependent.

    That is a legitimate concern today.

  4. 4 Ana Milena, Colombia
    April 8, 2008 at 19:10

    Hi! 🙂
    In my country, the rise of food prices is impacting our community. Reasons? The weather, the procedures involved in cropping, and of course, taxes. Consequences? Though it’s not as serious as it is in Asia or Africa, some people are refraining from obtaining healthy food.

    It’s dreadful to see they’re raising prices while food and lands are being wasted in other areas. A better distribution of lands and supplies, plus policies for promotion and prevention might help. A joined work can save the business and, of course, the people.


  5. 5 Sheldon
    April 9, 2008 at 05:59

    The ironic thing is that Trinidad is currently in a wicked cycle as far as food is concerned. There is a critical housing shortage, everyone wants to live closer to where they work to avoid a painful commute, so the government embarked on an aggressive housing programme all over the country. The result ….a somewhat controversial decision to build houses on arable land. On the one end, the energy sector funds our economy hence the neglect of agriculture …and coupled with the housing programme.. yes that’s right A DOUBLE WHAMMY FOR AGRICULTURE !!!

    Who suffers ? Yes you guessed it..The poor and underprivileged and you wonder why crime is spiralling out of control here.

  6. 6 benjamin
    April 9, 2008 at 11:01


    its really difficult for the people nowadays that the food prices are going high. especially people like me who are working abroad, the us dollars has gone down so that means that our salary will have to go down too, and commodities prices are soaring high. where do we go from here. I guess in the next few years starvation death would be popular, and third world countries will become more poorer. AMERICA, UK WE NEED YOUR HELP!


  7. April 9, 2008 at 14:06

    “I guess in the next few years starvation death would be popular, and third world countries will become more poorer. AMERICA, UK WE NEED YOUR HELP!”

    I think that is a very pessermistic attitude, but it equally sums up why developing nations might become poorer.

    Why is it the USA and the UKs responsibility to make sure there is enough food for everyone in the world? I understand that since america and britian play key roles in the global economy then from that point of view i understand we have a responsibility. But surely if there is a problem concerning food in your home nation then you should be campaigning to your home government. It is not America’s or Britian’s job to police the world as much as i think we would like to.

    If prices in grains are high then surely the immediate answer for countries with grain shortages is to reduce their exports, and to concentrate on selling their food within their own country.

  8. April 9, 2008 at 14:36

    I am living in Japan at the moment, and am blogging on the effects that this global food crisis or “peak food” will have here.

    While the poorest nations are suffering first, Japan is in a worse situation than almost every other developed country, as they currently import fully 61% of their food and a huge percentage of their energy. Coupled with this, they have limited land to convert to emergency agricultural use.

    As it looks as if we have reached peak oil (with OPEC refusing to increase production this week…), there is only one direction in which food prices are going to go. It is already having an effect in the cities as restaurants are all putting their prices up this month. It seems like the country is sleep-walking into a terrible disaster.

    With respect to causes, what really strikes me about this whole situation is what is missing from the coverage. Poor people are starving to death, and most of the media, including the BBC, blame it on biofuels and “The changing diet of the Chinese and Indians”, without explaining the true causes of these factors themselves.

    Due to the world marketisation of agriculture we have reached the point where food equals energy, and it turns out that rich people are more able to buy corn to power their Sports Utility Vehicles than poor people are to make bread. Three cheers for capitalism!

    We have been fooling ourselves for too long that our over-consumption is sustainable in some way, and it is only when the rest of the world tries to catch up that we are being hit with the reality of the situation.

    Freddy Greaves

  9. 9 selena
    April 9, 2008 at 14:39

    A few weeks ago, we had three severe snow storms in a row. The storms disrupted the transportation system. When the storms finally cleared, the shelves in the supermarket were empty. At least, we were soon back to normal.

    What is sad is that thirty years ago this place was self sufficient in terms of food. Then we jumped on the free trade, globalization bandwagon and voilà no more food production.

    It appears we have every right tot be concerned about food. It can only get worse, as more and more developing countries use their food production to feed their own citizens.

    Is it time to go back to each country trying to grow it own food?

  10. 10 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    April 9, 2008 at 14:50

    This question should be only asked to us small people, I mean ordinary
    people who are facing lots difficulties in buying basic commodities
    like bread, rice, cooking oil, fish, savon, meat, milk, sugar, salt
    just to name a few…I am very sure that many families in Cameroon eat
    once a day…I have forgotten things like wine, break-fast (milk, sugar,
    eggs, coffee).

  11. 11 Muthee Mwangi
    April 9, 2008 at 15:10

    Hi Chloe and the rest of the team.
    The topic of today’s show is right on the spot more so for countries that are already compounded by problems like Kenya even though we are not on the list of your discussion.
    The rising food prices have adversely affected even the way people relate to each other with many people blaming it on the election aftermath turmoil and basically blaming it on the side of the political divide that one deems started the mess.
    The crunch is obviously felt across the third world more than anywhere else but still you hear the developed countries talking about EPA s while we know they have subsidized their farmers.

    Muthee Mwangi

  12. 12 Nick
    April 9, 2008 at 15:59

    George, if you think american supermarkets are nice, you should really try going to international supermarkets. They put ours to shame with meat, dairy, and produce variety. It’s not all prepackaged junk food like ours either, they have genuinely tastey food. Instead of choosing between Kraft and Velveeta, you get to choose between Feta from Cyprus or Roule from France.

    Anyways, to stay on topic, I am only partially terrified of food prices because my family owns 400 acres in Illinois. This year we grew seed corn, soya, and wheat. With a combination of selling at the right time and outperforming neighboring farms we made considerably more money this year than any year in history. My point being… for people in the corn belt, our food prices are offset by the extra money we’re pulling in from our crops. This whole situation does make me fearful for people living in poorer countries who have no way of affording these higher prices.

  13. 13 David from Australia
    April 9, 2008 at 16:20

    The market crunch, the rising fuel and the American dollar are the main causes of the current rising prices of food. As for the developing countries, this is the time to start not to depend on so called developed countries. See what you can do to produce for your own people. Remember, there may come a time when the so called developed countries may not want to give or sell any surplus food to the poor nations.

    A challenge to bodies like the African Union is that they should try and recruit agricultural professionals who are living and working overseas to come and help develop agricultural enterprises before it is too late.

  14. April 9, 2008 at 17:00

    Crazy thing about basic needs. The economy always adjust to fulfill the need. With more people loosing their homes, autos, and other luxuries, and forced into situation where their basic needs are more important and their leviers are less pursued, they can afford to pay more for their food. The next correction will be ecological. If there are too many people to be supported by the food production capabilities, then either we will improve our production abilities, or part of the population will die off until the food we have can support the population. Cold? Maybe, but that is the facts jack.

  15. 15 Louisa Arndt
    April 9, 2008 at 18:05

    Meat consumption is not required for human health. Hence the world does NOT need more animals to be slaughtered!
    The vast amounts of fossil fuels now used to transport food could be drastically reduced if more food were produced locally.
    It makes no sense to feed corn to vehicles!
    Many if not most households could grow some of their own food, if only a couple of pots on a balcony, not solely for the amount of food produced but for people to gain a respect for food. It’s also possible to convert unused spaces into gardens, albeit with concerns regarding polluted ground.
    As to pollution, we should STOP polluting our environment and our bodies with exhaust fumes, smokestack emissions, chemicals, pesticides, genetically-engineered plants, fertilizer run-off, oil spills, sewage overflows, legal and illegal drugs, and the like, all of which affect the production of clean, healthy food.
    Curb human population and stop paving over farmland!
    Diversify food production by bringing back small farms rather than depending on the stranglehold of corporate agriculture.
    Finally, end all war! One cannot farm in a war zone!
    We all need food. We all live on the same planet. We will have to cooperate – or die!

  16. April 9, 2008 at 18:37

    Food cost and availability will always fluctuate. The question you are asking is should those that have the means and ability to feed themselves feel obligated to help those that do not? Should cultural welfare programs be implemented to help those who can not afford the raising costs?

  17. April 9, 2008 at 19:29

    Nick in America is right on the button. American supermarkets are full of ridiculously processed food. Shelves full of packaged pasta dishes, doctored cereals, processed rice etc etc illustrate a widespread inability to cook. Anyone on a budget need only learn to cook basics like lentils, pulses, fresh vegetables, fresh meat and cheese (grate your own!) etc to economise. Few people need go hungry here. America is profligate and wasteful. Home made soup is vastly superior and cheaper than tinned soups. Yet the majority of cooks don’t know how to make it.

    Why are we turning food into fuel? In Brazil they turn sugar cane stalks into combustible oils, but we are using corn which inflates food prices.

    I am worried about people in developing countries whose basic needs are unaffordable. Imagine the anguish of parents with hungry children. A very large proportion of the world’s population goes to bed hungry. They are the ones we need to worry about. The dearth of political will to solve the world’s feeding problems is a matter of shame to us all..

  18. April 9, 2008 at 20:25

    The problem with rising oil and food prices [in America] can be linked to excessive government, the war in Iraq, greed in the Republican/Democratic Administration. If the Republicans and Democrats did not interfere in the food and petrol chain, it would be a step in the right direction.

  19. April 10, 2008 at 02:16

    one third of the world has allways gone to sleep hungry [i say go to sleep because many cant afford a bed]
    its not about peak oil [we are no where near peak oil yet]the blame is clearly able to be put before govt [who see their job as exploiting their people and their land and the lands recourses , being more intrested in serving buisness [bigger the better ] buisness intrest before serving the people

    we have massive ammounts of coorperate welfair subsidy being farmed out to big buisness ,we have public recource being ‘privatised ” [from being owned by the people to being owned by banks]

    we have a two party system that by and large looks only as far as their next re-election ,looking to further serve big buisness once their ‘term’ is served so they can get on the board of some huge govt subsoidised multinational

    we have policing of the public to raise revenue to give to the multinationals p[thus their bankers]who seek only to control the people for the lowest wage and the highest ‘return’
    we have multinationals who have sought and bought out the water rights so they can grow cotten because it gives the highest return [thus can bid the highest price for the ‘privatised’ waters
    then we have the cashed up rich who then speculate on the ever shrinking food pool by bying up the futures ,driving up the price of anything that can be future traded , that then is re-invested into trusts and securities that cant ever be taxed

    it was written long ago [by people who simply knew the way of men] that at the end time we would eat money [because you get more of it that food is able to buy ,as our fiat currency slowly has bought it all into the private [untaxable domain of the family trust and swiss banks]
    need we go into the ones who have privatised the owning of even seed [only god can makle to grow]

    [special seed that a colluding judiciary has made ‘owned’ by special proffiteering intrest’sss, [that needs massive ammounts of fossil fuel based fertiliser [that needs to be bought by using money lender financing [on their now mortgaged lands ] that then is served to the special intrest who now own it all
    who by owning it all seek to own not only all but all the people do say and are allowed to think , its not about food its about money [moneyed intrests seeking to turn food into cash, seeking to turn rivers into cash, turning people into cash ,
    law into cash ,but who cares [clearly going by the limeted ammounts of comment people are more intrested in american idol, than the poor who are being pillaged after being raped all their lives

  20. 20 Bert Jacobs
    April 10, 2008 at 05:04

    I know that oil and commodity prices are rising where I live and I understand the opinions expressed. But what I would really like to know is know much extra inflation is added to a typical basket of food as a result of
    “Market Speculation?”

  21. April 10, 2008 at 05:44

    Well, Mr. Malthus, after all these centuries, are we finally to prove your thesis accurate? It looks that way, don’t it!
    Am I worried? I’m too old to worry. And besides, worrying is an exercise in futility–it won’t feed the poor, save the rich, nor give us the wisdom we lack!
    ‘Are we facing a new era of more expensive food?’ ‘NEW ERA,’ you say? Ask the Earth’s poor! New era, perhaps for the middle classes now expanding the world over, but even they should remember times gone by. Old wealth won’t notice it, for a while; the nouveaux riche will, squawk about it and dismiss it. As for the poor, for them it’ll be more of the same only worse–as usual. For a while. But eventually, the ‘only worse’ part will grow worser for everybody. The poorest will continue to suffer hunger or die; their children will continue to suffer malnutrition and die, but in larger numbers than they do now; the well-off will continue to protest and, for everyone, our ills will worsen, as they do even now. But it is the peasants who have always known how to manage. Maybe, this time also, they’ll make it and remain what they have always been: the salt of the Earth and the kernel of the future.
    ‘Many people are now talking about a global food crisis – with no end in sight – do you agree?’ How could I not? Isn’t it an axiomatic truth, that when a given population, human or otherwise, breeds (or, as in this case, develops) itself beyond sustainability, its environment deteriorates, the eco-systems around it begin to collapse and, sooner or later, the curtain drops? History provides us with cases aplenty, while we, in our highly technologized materialistic world, exemplify to highest degree every single error every collapsed culture ever made–and did not live to correct: Sumerians, Greeks and Romans, the Anasazi, the Mayas, the Easter Islanders, to name a few. As for the global part of it, all the above were global unto themselves but local in terms of the planet. Ours is the first and only human population whose way of life IS indeed global, in both its up and its down sides.
    ‘And who do you blame for this?’ I’ve given much anguished thought and heart to this question. It’s tempting to blame governments and corporations, the wealthy, the military, the developers, even the experts–all those lusting after gain and profit, power and control. And, yes, much unheeded responsibility resides in those sectors. Particularly in wealthy heedless America. But, the truth be told, the multi-crises we now face and the condition we have brought the planet to are only the legacy of our shared unwisdom, the testament of humanity’s unfinished evolution, the manifestation of lessons unlearned and growth still unattained. We near a corner around which Collapse awaits, still unseen. The certainty, given the road we travel, is that, barring a change of direction, we shall round that corner and arrive at road’s end before our Childhood’s. Perhaps then, in its next production, mankind will discover how to let itself be used and guided by the Earth’s and its creatures greater wisdom and thus learn and grow!

  22. April 10, 2008 at 06:26

    Yeah, greatly worried. I think that we need to make a collective effort to increase Agricultural Productivity and ensure food security amoongst teh poor citizens especially.

  23. April 10, 2008 at 06:27

    To each and every question raised above, I’d quote the answer given by someone far wiser and further seeing than I:
    “The significant problems we face today can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
    A. Einstein.
    The change that needs be is not simply in diet and how we eat, but in how we think and how we live, in how we relate to the planet, to our fellow creatures and to each other.
    Short of a radical change in paradigms, in worldview and mindset, humanity hasn’t got a viable future. This is NOT about food. As it is NOT about climate change or global warming or biofuels or whatever else.
    THE problem is one of EXCESS. Excess in numbers. Excess of people, of procreation without restraint. Excess of things, of manufacture without restraint. Excess of demands and wants and expectations. Excess of development and irresponsibility, of greed and ignorance. Excess of violence and destruction, of fear and hostility, of enmity and distrust. We no longer know ourselves and fail to know who the true enemy is. Or where. We have run amok! We’re out of control and out of balance in all sectors–within ourselves, within our relationships, within the planet and our place in it. Humanity stands at a crossroads, blinded by hubris and its unexamined assumptions. But no one has ever guaranteed the continued existence or relevance of ANY civilization or culture, ours included. It behooves then, to examine ourselves and shift direction. We can and we must. But…, will we?

  24. 24 John van Dokkumburg
    April 10, 2008 at 08:24

    We need to stop thinking in money money , you cant buy another invirement tomorrow .

  25. April 10, 2008 at 09:25

    i am from nigeria, and it is really discouraging to see the way the prices of food have been sky rocketing within the past four years.
    the prices of bread, rice,egg,milk and other basic food items have tripled.
    The rich don’t complain because they have enough. only the poor are left to bear the brunt.
    The governement is paying lip service to agriculture development and paying more attention to the oil sector.
    Nigeria was noted for the groundnut pyramid in kano and it was really easy to have a decent three square meal in the 80’s, but all that have gone with the wind.
    More than 80% of what nigerians consume are imported. what a shame for a country that prides herself as the giant of Africa.
    The green revolution came and it went without achieving its desired result. operation feed the nation also could not achieve much.
    In the midst of plenty, millions of nigerians are groaning under the burden of high prices of food items.

  26. April 13, 2008 at 11:47

    Yes! we in Sri lanka are undergoing terrible dificulties . The so called middle class and the working class with 2/4 children in a family have to forego at least a meal a day and some 2 meals a day.
    This essentially due to the civil war going on for the past 20 years, and partly due to the world market prices. The cost of essentials Like rice, milk food flour,cooking gas,Dhal etc has gone over 75/100% within the last 6 months.
    Spending on arms and ammuition by the government for the war goes on unabated. Politicians and the upper clas for whom war is an ‘investment’ do not care two hoots.If there is no war the prices of essentials could be brought down by atleast 50%

  27. April 18, 2008 at 15:42

    The prices of basic foodstuffs – like wheat, rice and corn – is going high to foot the bill of arms and ammunition supplied to Laden and Al-Quaida during Soviet occupation and Saddam to fight Iran and now in the name of the de-mocracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The greatest achiever is the USA and its cronies. We are in no way either beneficiary of the so-called fight against terrorism or casualty of the fight but we are paying the bill on behalf of the fight.
    I appeal to the USA people to send food grain and not the arms and ammunition to the third world countries.

  28. 28 Katrina
    May 3, 2008 at 01:08

    though Washington isn’t as badly hit just yet, the fact that the prices will only get higher, it is worrying me and my family members. Its a scary thought. Maybe we should just kill off a million or two people and solve the problem lol jk.
    We should really fix our eating habits and go back to having small portions, in all American is the biggest country in the world now, to see how much we eat is some what disgusting. -shrug- well hopefully we will be able to find something out.

  29. 29 Malthus
    August 7, 2008 at 20:36

    O V E R P O P U L A T I O N that is how it is spelled.
    There are those that make their wealth off of the poor and ignorant. Grist for the mills.

  30. August 8, 2008 at 06:47

    It is really good that the BBC is again focusing attention on food prices and their impact. Too often, an issue hits the headlines and then attention fades and the spotlight turns to other issues.
    The danger is that the governments and international institutions that have committed themselves to take action on reducing hunger and malnutrition also allow themselves to be distracted.
    With World Food Day coming up on 16th October, I wonder whether the World Service might not use the occasion to interview a selection of leaders of countries that came to Rome in June and pledged to do their best to end hunger – asking them to explain what they have done to translate their statements into action.
    The very fact that you would be holding them accountable could help to ensure action.

    August 12, 2008 at 17:25

    The present situation in Nigeria is disheartening because Nigeria has the capacity to feed the whole of Africa.Misplaced priorities has been our bain .God in his infinite mercy shall see us through the food crisis.

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