Thursday, October 11, 2012

Food prices, hunger and climate change

Pretty interesting juxtaposition of two stories on the El Heraldo website this week.
The cost of the basic food basket in Honduras - the food needed for a family of five for a month - has risen to 6,950 lempiras, or a little under $350, the newspaper reported, citing a report from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The second story reported that the minimum wage might go up in December, depending on the inflation rate.
A little less rain, and the crops fail
But it also noted that the current minimum wage schedule ranges from $230 a month to $355 a month. (The minimum wage schedule varies depending on the nature of the work and location. Farmworkers and others doing similar work are at the bottom; urban office workers get the higher minimums.)
The laws aren’t actually enforced. But even if employers are paying minimum wage, the stories highlight how tough life is for Hondurans.
If there is just one parent working at minimum wage - common enough - then the total income covers less than two-thirds of food costs, leaving no money for anything else. (A family of five is about average. Women start having children early - abut 18 per cent of women between 15 and 19 had children, according to the 2000 census. The Roman Catholic church oppose contraception. Sex education is lacking. And cultural factors support large families.)
Even someone earning the top minimum wage would see the entire amount go for food.
Of course, it’s not that straightfoward. Nothing is here. About half the population is rural, and many grow beans and corn, the staple foods. A tipico meal - breakfast, lunch or supper - virtually always includes corn tortillas and beans. 
But there was bad news on that front as well. Catholic Relief Services, along with a couple of expert food production groups, released a report on climate change and bean and corn production in the CA-4 countries - Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The forecast is disastrous. By 2020, Honduras is predicted to see a 12 to 30-per-cent drop in corn production, depending on soil quality. Bean production is forecast to decline by 15 per cent.
That’s not surprising once you’ve seen Hondurans farms. About 70 per cent are on steep slopes, with poor soil and no irrigation potential. Farming follows a pattern that’s hundreds of years old - plant corn in May, in anticipation of rain, and add beans in September, when rain increases again. It takes only a small change - rain that comes late, or temperatures that are too high - and the crops fail. 
And in rural communities, that means hunger. Even today, the World Bank reports 29 per cent of children under five are stunted - shorter than the range for their age because of malnutrition. I’ve given up on guessing kids' ages - six-year-olds are the size of four-year-olds in Canada.
Cuso International and its partners are doing a lot of work on improving food production, diversifying crops and increasing cash incomes. But it’s a huge challenge when people are focused on having enough corn and beans for the next 12 months, and worried that any experiment that goes wrong will mean daily hunger.

Canadians shouldn’t get too smug. The Dieticians of Canada do an annual report on food costs, and found a family of four needs to spend $868 a month in British Columbia. A person working for minimum wage makes $1,666 a month, leaving not much for everything else.
A disabled person in B.C. trying to raise three children - it happens - gets $700 for rent and $672 for everything else - 77 per cent of the amount needed for food alone.

1 comment:

otr said...

good article Paul. Always enjoy your your writing.

Man, we (people and ecosystems around the world) are in the midst of tough times and about to get worse.

Sure hope we make it through.