Haiti’s government falls after food riots

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti’s government fell on Saturday when senators fired the prime minister after more than a week of riots over food prices, ignoring a plan presented by the president to slash the cost of rice.

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Sixteen of 17 senators at a special session voted against Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, an ally President Rene Preval placed at the head of a coalition cabinet in June 2006 that was meant to unite the fractious Caribbean nation.

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Haitian President Fails to Restore Order

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A desperate appeal from the president Wednesday failed to restore order to Haiti’s shattered capital, and bands of looters sacked stores, warehouses and government offices.

Gunfire rang out from the wealthy suburbs in the hills to the starving slums below as 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers were unable to halt a frenzy of looting and violence that has grown out of protests over rising food prices.


Police officers disperse demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday, April 09, 2008.
(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Many of the protesters are demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed president, Rene Preval, and on Tuesday U.N. peacekeepers had to fire rubber bullets and tear gas to drive away a mob that tried to storm his palace.

He delivered his first public comments Wednesday, nearly a week into the protests. With his job on the line, Preval urged Congress to cut taxes on imported food and appealed to the rioters to go home.

“The solution is not to go around destroying stores,” he said. “I’m giving you orders to stop.”

But gunfire rang out around the palace after the speech, as peacekeepers tried to drive away people looting surrounding stores.

The streets remained in the control of bands of young men carrying sticks and rocks, who set up roadblocks of burning tires and stopped passing cars. Businesses were closed and most people locked themselves indoors, as mobs looted stores, warehouses and government offices.

Read moreHaitian President Fails to Restore Order

World Bank Expects More High Food Prices

Rising food prices, which have caused social unrest in several countries, are not a temporary phenomenon, but are likely to persist for several years, World Bank President Robert Zoellick says.

Strong demand, change in diet and the use of biofuels as an alternative source of energy have reduced world food stocks to a level bordering on an emergency, he says.

Speaking to reporters Monday before the bank’s spring meeting this coming weekend, Zoellick said the 185-member World Bank would work with other organizations to deal with the crisis by seeking ways to help farmers, especially in Africa, to increase productivity and improve access to food through schools or workplaces.

“This is not a this-year phenomenon,” he said, referring to the price spike. “I think it is going to continue for some time.”

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Food prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

LONDON – Staple food prices will rise for some years, but should eventually fall to historical averages as harvests increase, biofuel company executives said on Thursday.

Soaring demand for better quality food from rapidly industrializing emerging markets such as China, supply shortages, increased demand for biofuels, and a surging appetite for food commodities by investment funds, have combined to push prices of basic foods higher and higher in recent months.

Stephane Delodder, managing partner of Netherlands-based consultancy iFuel Corporate Advisory, told a conference the problem of rising food prices would persist for some years.

Market forces should eventually help rebalance supply and demand, especially in markets which are not highly regulated, but this could take some time.

“(It could be) a few years at most before the situation returns to normal,” Delodder said.

He said grains and oilseed futures markets, which have corrected down recently after meteoric rises, may already be signaling that supply will rise as farmers raise plantings.

Read moreFood prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

Could we really run out of food?

Biofuel production, poor harvests and emerging nations’ growing appetites are emptying the world’s pantry, sending prices soaring. It’s a good time to invest in agricultural stocks.
As if a bear market, U.S. credit crunch, energy crisis and city financing emergency were not enough for one year, experts say the world is now facing down the barrel of the worst catastrophe of all: famine.

The very idea that the modern world could run out of food seems ludicrous, but that is the flip side, or cause, of the tremendous recent increase in the cost of raw wheat, corn, rice, oats and soybeans. Food prices are not escalating because speculators have run them up for sport and profit, but because accelerating demand in developing nations, biofuel production and poor harvests in some areas have made basic foodstuffs truly scarce.

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(In this article: …global grain reserves are “precarious,” at just 1.7 months of consumption, down from 3.5 months of reserves as recently as 2000.”…)

Read moreCould we really run out of food?

Rising Inflation Creates Unease in Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan – Even as it enriches Arab rulers, the recent oil-price boom is helping to fuel an extraordinary rise in the cost of food and other basic goods that is squeezing this region’s middle class and setting off strikes, demonstrations and occasional riots from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.

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The cost of many basic foods, like at this market in Amman, has doubled. Some in the middle class are tilting toward poverty

Read moreRising Inflation Creates Unease in Middle East

High food prices may force aid rationing

“The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities”….

“The WFP crisis talks come as the body sees the emergence of a “new area of hunger” in developing countries where even middle-class, urban people are being “priced out of the food market” because of rising food prices.”…

“The price of rice and wheat has doubled in the past year while freight costs have also increased sharply on the back of rising fuel prices.”…

Read moreHigh food prices may force aid rationing

World warned on high food costs – BBC NEWS

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is deeply concerned about the sharp rise in global food prices.

Mr Ban said the trend would hinder progress towards the millennium development goals (MDGs), which aim to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) and other agencies may be forced to ration food aid, he said in a BBC interview.

He said shortages might be eased by a “green revolution” to transform farming methods in Africa.

Global food prices have risen by 40% in nine months and food reserves are at their lowest for 30 years.

The WFP is facing a $500m (£248m) shortfall in its attempts to feed 73 million people this year.

Read moreWorld warned on high food costs – BBC NEWS

Commodities Boom Sends French Food Prices Rocketing

PARIS (Reuters) – Prices of grain and milk-based food products have surged in France in recent months due to booming commodities prices, a French consumer group said in a report.

A monitoring of over 1,000 products between the end of November and early January in five supermarkets showed that yoghurt, milk and pasta had most suffered from the surge in many agricultural commodities that started last year.

“They’re not rising, they’ve caught fire,” monthly 60 Millions de Consommateurs said in its March report, circulated ahead of publication on Tuesday.

“Everywhere since the start of the year, spaghetti, yoghurt, camembert cheeses, have seen staggering rises in prices,” it said, stressing that the surge had hit all types of products, famous brands as well as supermarket own-brands.

Read moreCommodities Boom Sends French Food Prices Rocketing

Pizza and beer now cost an arm and a leg

If you’re looking for a sure sign the U.S. economy is headed in the wrong direction, all you need to do is look at the skyrocketing price of “recession-proof” foods: pizza, hot dogs, bagels and beer.For many Americans, the credit crunch and the mortgage mess have left their pocketbooks – and their cupboards – bare. These same consumers, many living paycheck to paycheck, have relied on these cheaper foods to keep their expenditures down. Not anymore.

In the past few months, the news has gone from bad to worse:

* Pizza makers have seen their cheese costs soar this year from $1.30 a pound to $1.76 a pound. Even worse, the flour used to make the dough has gone from $3-$7 dollars a bushel to $25 a bushel in less than a year.
* Beer makers have been forced to raise their prices because of the skyrocketing price of hops – one of the principle ingredients. The price of hops has gone from about $4 a pound in September to $40 a pound. The price of barley, beer’s other main ingredient, has nearly doubled.
* Bagel shops have struggled to hold the line on prices and keep their customers. The exploding wheat prices have made the $1 bagel a fact of life in big cities such as New York. Donuts are averaging $1.50. And many shop owners fear a wheat shortage will drive prices even higher.
* Even the lowly hot dog is getting more expensive. Gray’s Papaya, a New York hot dog institution, will be jacking up the price for its $3.50 “Recession Special” – two hot dogs and a 14-ounce drink. Nicholas Gray, owner of the frankfurter chain, has yet to set the price increase, but he indicated it is coming soon.

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Overall, retail food prices rose 4 percent last year – the biggest jump in 17 years. The USDA officials predicted another 3 percent to 4 percent increase this year and continuing price hikes, faster than the pace of inflation going into 2010. And the price pinch has hit the lower-income shoppers hardest.

Why is this happening? Call it the perfect storm of inflationary pressures.

Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm, described the cost increases as a “disaster scenario,” with no real end in sight and limited ability for most to pass on the bulk of the costs to consumers.

Surging energy costs have driven up the price of transporting goods from farm to storefront. The national average for a gallon of gas jumped to $3.164, creeping closer to last May’s record of $3.227, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Diesel prices jumped 1.5 cents to a new record national average of $3.642 a gallon.

While most Americans fuel their cars with gasoline, most of the products they buy are transported by trucks, trains and ships that burn diesel. While gas prices are unlikely to rise as high as $4 a gallon, diesel may well pass that psychologically important level this spring, boosting prices of virtually every consumer product, said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, New Jersey.

“It’s everything that gets shipped,” Kloza said of diesel fuel’s impact on the economy. “That is the one that is much scarier.”

Another reason for the sharp hike in food prices is the increasing demand for ethanol, which has driven up the price of corn – and at the same time created a shortage of wheat as farmers shift their crop to the more lucrative corn.

“There are several reasons [for higher food prices], but at the core is corn, the largest and most important of agricultural commodities,” said Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions.

Which brings us back to the price of flour – and the pricier pizza. Jimmy Ferrell, owner of the four Fat Jimmy’s pizza restaurants in Louisville, Ky., said the price of flour has forced him to pass the cost onto his customers. “You have to raise (prices) a couple times a year just to keep up,” he said.

Ferrell thinks the rising flour prices have hurt small operators more than national chains.

“The national chains have a lot more pull and they can negotiate prices. I don’t think we have the same buying power that a Papa John’s or a Domino’s obviously has.”

Food industry consultant Goldin doesn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. “There are no simple solutions,” he said. “The trend will be to reduce product costs, and some of that may very well affect quality.”

So, how can budget-conscious consumers stretch their dollar? There is one – albeit artery-clogging – alternative.

Fast food companies, looking for a way to attract budget-conscious customers, are increasingly offering more food for less money. The “dollar-menu” option is growing at chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Quiznos.

That’s good news for diners like Boston resident Shekia Scott. While lunching with friends at a Burger King, Scott said higher prices for food and gas were hurting her budget. But, she added, “the dollar menu’s been a help.”

So there you have it. Your best option for cheap eats is a gut-busting McDonald’s double cheeseburger for a buck. Makes you want to cry in your beer … if you can afford it.

The Associated Press and CNBC contributed to this report. By Al Olson

MSNBC updated 11:18 p.m. ET Feb. 29, 2008

Source: MSNBC

Famines May Occur Without Record Crops This Year


Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — Grain farmers will need to harvest record crops every year to meet increasing global food demand and avoid famine, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. Chief Executive Officer William Doyle said.

People and livestock are consuming more grain than ever, draining world inventories and increasing the likelihood of shortages, Doyle said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Global grain stockpiles fell to about 53 days of supply last year, the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If you had any major upset where you didn’t have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you’d see famine,” Doyle, 57, said in New York.

Potash, the world’s largest maker of crop nutrients, has more than doubled in market value in the past year as record crop prices allowed farmers to spend more on fertilizer to boost yields. The company has more than doubled net income in the past two years to $1.1 billion and expects gross profit from potash to expand to $8 billion within five years from $912 million in 2007. Potash is a form of potassium that helps plants grow.

Read moreFamines May Occur Without Record Crops This Year