First world fuel trumps third world meal

Rehana Rossouw, Business Day Weekender, Johannesburg, 19 April 2008

It came as a shock, when I realised recently that the price of margarine and cooking oil had doubled in a month. I’m not particularly price-sensitive about food — I have a vague idea of what the basics cost. I eat well, and I try to spend the same amount every month.

A cashier at a supermarket alerted me to the vast increases. “Do you know how much you’re paying for this?” she asked as she scanned my tub of margarine. I watched the screen on her till. It was R16,99. A week or two earlier I had paid about R8 for a tub of the same size and brand.

“I see you’re eating meat,” the cashier continued as I emptied my trolley. “You won’t be able to eat so well next month.” I was horrified.

Its even more horrifying that the only reason the whole world is paying more for food is so that Hummer drivers in rich countries can fill their tanks with biofuel.

They have pushed the price of maize up by 80%. It’s probably those same Hummer drivers who are speculating on food stocks. Because of them the price of Africa and Asia’s staple foods — maize, wheat and rice — have increased by 80% over the past seven years.

This is a problem for middle-class people like me, and an absolute disaster for the poor. I need to cut back on salmon and increase my hake intake, but poor families may find themselves unable to fill every tummy in their homes.

I’ve become accustomed to answering my body’s cravings. People laugh when I eat large quantities of beetroot, which I call Manto’s medicine, but I defend the minister — which makes people laugh even harder.

She’s right about food being medicine (although it’s not a replacement for drugs). When my body asks for liver, beetroot and broccoli for supper tonight, I give it what it needs. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has suggested we all grow more food. While I admire him for branding rich countries criminal for subsidising farmers to produce crops for biofuel, his idea that we should all grow more food is a bit batty.

I can grow sunflowers but that doesn’t mean I can make margarine. Planting food has an input cost, which many poor families might not be able to afford. How many heads of corn does it take to produce 2,5kg of maize meal, and how long does it take to grow?

My tummy’s demands echo that of our constitution. Article 27 says “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water”. This does not mean we have the right to embark on food riots and storm into supermarkets to take food off the shelves. This means the government has to ensure there is assistance for everyone who can’t afford to eat.

From: http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/TarkArticle.aspx?ID=3201025

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