Sadly the food crisis did not make it onto the G8 table as often as the canapés did.
G8 leaders said they would tackle food insecurity by co-ordinating a new “global partnership” by calling on each other, and others, to donate more. They welcomed the World Bank’s US$1.2 billion rapid fund but did not add to it. The fund is a start, but Oxfam estimates $14.5 billion is needed to provide immediate support so people do not go hungry.
The lack of aggressive, widespread action from the G8 is concerning for Australia, because world food prices are fast becoming a crisis that will effect our region deeply.
World prices of rice, corn, and wheat have all reached record highs in the last few months. World Bank figures show that earlier this year, the real price of rice hit a 19-year high and the real price of wheat rose to a 28-year high. The consequences for poor families can be dire.
In Australia, the cost of living is the new BBQ stopper - if you can afford the steaks and snags. Food prices rose 5.7 per cent for the year to March, with the biggest increase seen in dairy, bread and cereals.
Just beyond our shores, in the Asia Pacific Region, poor and middle class families in developing countries are also suffering, but for them, it can mean starvation.
For these reasons and more Oxfam called on Prime Minister Rudd earlier this week to use his regional clout and place food prices firmly on the table.
So what can Australia do?
Mr Rudd made security in our region a priority for our foreign policy. Last year, while he was still opposition leader, he set out how an ALP Government would differ from the coalition. The basic difference he, claimed, was that a Labor Government would seek to prevent security issues festering in our region, by taking pre-emptive action.
“The uncomfortable truth is that Australian policy has more often than not been reactive rather than proactive, last minute rather than long-term, and military rather than economic,” Rudd argued.
Tackling rising food prices goes to the heart of pre-empting insecurity and economic and social instability among our regional neighbours. Hungry people can be angry people.
Australia should be providing targeted aid to vulnerable people in developing countries to help protect poor families faced with fluctuating prices. We also need social protection schemes such as cash for work programmes to help people in poor countries survive shocks and meet basic needs.
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