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Amartya Sen on food shortages

Amartya Sen argues that droughts such as that being experienced in Australia, high economic growth in some developing countries as well as the diversion of grains into biofuelds servicing the needs of the wealthy has created a surge in the demand for foods that has driven up food prices and endangered the world’s poor.

Its a sensible argument – in my own household I have felt the increase in food prices clearly in terms of its impact of our household budget – it is a real impact but as a household we spend less much less than one third of the budget on food. At most I might have to cancel that mid-winter holiday and forgo that new set of golf clubs! For families already spending most of their low incomes on food the issue is of life-threatening seriousness – particular since high food prices are seen as likely for at least another decade. In South America alone 71 million extremely poor people face hunger as a consequence of rising food prices. Globally 850 million people suffer from hunger caused by poverty.

Global economic development has been a success story in recent decades. This should not induce complacency. While levels of absolute poverty have fallen dramatically it is important not to forget those 1 in 10 people of the world’s population who are left behind and who suffer the adverse effects of economic growth on such things as food prices.

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