Devastating effect of higher food prices on developing nations

As last month’s World Population Day reminded us, we have over 7 billion mouths to feed. And we have to make a place at the table for the 9 million-plus projected by 2050. To do so, we’ll have to ramp up food production by 70 percent, according to United Nations estimates.

In 2011, world food prices went up by some 37 percent during the Russian wheat crisis, driving another 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank. This year, the effects of drought may signal more of the same for food prices in coming months.

And climate scientists predict extreme weather events with the potential to disrupt the food supply – including floods and droughts – will be far more common in the coming years.

Changing demographics are also putting new strains on our food supply, as millions of “up and coming” consumers in places like India and China buy more milk and meat to reflect newly middle class tastes, as chronicled in the Journal of Nutrition. In just this decade, there will be a 30 percent increase in global demand for milk, Tetra Pak’s own dairy index forecasts.

Furthermore, food crops and farmland are increasingly being diverted into biofuel production around the globe, making commodity crops scarcer and more expensive.

Price spikes hurt people in developing nations more, simply because they spend a much higher fraction of their incomes on food.  Whereas U.S. households spend about 6 percent of their total expenditures on food, this compares with 35 percent in India and 45 percent in Kenya. As a result, a major uptick in food prices in developing parts of the world is beyond devastating — it’s destabilizing.

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