World's Food Supply Being Mismanaged
Although rising food prices will ensure that the starving people of
Sudan are a bit hungrier today, it's nice to know they do not have
to go without Coca-Cola.
Sudan is suffering through arguably the world's worst humanitarian
crisis. War in its western regions has displaced millions of people.
Millions more throughout the country remain mired in chronic hunger.
The international community is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars
into the World Food Programme's mission in Sudan to sustain the largest
and most complex humanitarian aid mission the world has ever seen.
While staples such as wheat, sugar and corn are harder to come by
due to a global shortage of food, Sudan enjoys an almost endless supply
of the world's most famous soft drink which, under current U.S. trade
rules, is essentially classified as food aid.
The United States is enforcing a trade embargo to protest Sudanese
government complicity with atrocities in Darfur. However, U.S. politicians
amended the bill enforcing the embargo to allow food and medicine
to continue flowing.
At first blush, there is some sense to this amendment. After all,
what kind of moral authority would the embargo have if it prevented
foreign aid from reaching Sudan?
Ah, but that was only part of the motivation. The authors of the amendment
expanded the definition of "food" to include staples such as, well,
The Sudanese company that bottles Coke got its licence from a subsidiary
in Dubai, technically avoiding the prospect of a U.S. company doing
business in contravention of the embargo.
The patented syrup used to make the pop is imported legally under
the same terms that allow the importation of humanitarian aid. Opened
in 2002, the state-of-the-art bottling factory produces 100,000 bottles
of Coke every hour.
Deals like this exist all over the world, which ensures that even
in those countries with the world's worst humanitarian records, the
combatants can still enjoy the pause that refreshes.
The existence of Coke in Sudan is a reminder that although food aid
is often equated with generosity, "donations" of food often involve
more politics and profit motive than philanthropy.
The U.S., for example, is the largest contributor to the aid efforts
in Sudan, but almost all of its support comes in the form of U.S.-grown
crops. This is a reflection of a U.S. law that requires humanitarian
aid to be sourced domestically. As such, the U.S. aid becomes one
of the most insidious forms of agricultural subsidy.
Consider that each year the U.S. grows millions of tonnes of sorghum,
a staple grain in many African nations, but one which is not consumed
in the U.S. The only reason U.S. farmers grow sorghum is to export
it as food aid.
A flood of heavily subsidized U.S.-grown sorghum means that it is
simply not cost-effective for farmers in Africa to grow their own
sorghum and wheat. And that means that developing countries never
cultivate a functional agricultural economy so they can end their
reliance on foreign aid.
All that is fascinating food for thought as the planet suffers through
a drastic shortage of food. The prices of basic staples have escalated
to the point where aid agencies are unable to meet their goals, which
will force tens of millions of people from subsistence to starvation.
Many observers will complain that the burgeoning biofuels industry
is to blame for the food crisis. Food aid agencies and activists are
not happy that millions of acres of wheat have been converted to crops
needed to produce biofuels.
But the food shortage gripping the world right now was caused by factors
much more profound than the conversion of arable land from food to
The current crisis is the result of a perfect storm of factors: non-sustainable
farming practices in developed countries; the conversion of agricultural
land to other uses; the inability to shift from subsidized food aid
shipments to programs to help developing countries grow their own
crops; a growing global population; rapidly growing economies in India
and China that are consuming more food; and climate change, which
has increased both the duration and frequency of droughts.
This is a crisis decades in the making. And when Coca-Cola syrup can
be imported to a trade-embargoed, food-starved country under rules
governing humanitarian aid, clearly the world's wealthiest nations
need to rethink how they manage the world's food supply.
As it stands now, the planet has become a powder keg, as starving
people the world over panic over higher prices.
Perhaps this is the crisis that will persuade the international community
to rethink agriculture, trade rules and the way we administer foreign
Now, that would be refreshing.
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