Monday, February 25, 2008

UN warns of new face of hunger

UN warns of new face of hunger

26 February 2008 07:17
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The United Nations on Monday warned that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices, which have created a "new face of hunger".

"We will have a problem in coming months," said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP). "We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half-a-billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs."

With voluntary contributions from the world's wealthy nations, the WFP feeds 73-million people in 78 countries, less than a 10th of the total number of the world's undernourished. Its agreed budget for 2008 was $2,9-billion. But with annual food-price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries.

The shortfall is all the more worrying as it comes at a time when populations, many in urban areas, who had thought themselves secure in their food supply, are now unable to afford basic foodstuffs. Afghanistan has recently added an extra 2,5-million people to the number it says are at risk of malnutrition

"This is the new face of hunger," Sheeran said. "There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before."

WFP officials say the extraordinary increases in the global price of basic foods were caused by a "perfect storm" of factors, including a rise in demand for animal feed from increasingly prosperous populations in India and China, the use of more land and agricultural produce for biofuels, and climate change.

The impact has been felt around the world.

Food riots have broken out in Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan, and Pakistan has reintroduced rationing for the first time in two decades. Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil for six months. Thailand is also planning a freeze on food staples.

After protests around Indonesia, Jakarta has increased public food subsidies. India has banned the export of rice, except the high-quality basmati variety.

"For us, the main concern is for the poorest countries and the net food buyers," said Frederic Mousseau, a humanitarian policy adviser at Oxfam. "For the poorest populations, 50% to 80% of income goes on food purchases. We are concerned now about an immediate increase in malnutrition in these countries, and the landless, the farm workers there, all those who are living on the edge."

Much of the blame has been put on the transfer of land and grains to the production of biofuel. But its impact has been outweighed by the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.

"The fundamental cause is high income growth," said Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "I estimate this is half the story. The biofuels is another 30%. Then there are weather-induced erratic changes, which caused irritation in world food markets. These things have eaten into world levels of grain storage.

"The lower the reserves, the more nervous the markets become, and the increased volatility is particularly detrimental to the poor, who have small assets."

The impact of climate change will amplify that already dangerous volatility. Record flooding in West Africa, a prolonged drought in Australia and unusually severe snowstorms in China have all had an impact on food production.

"The climate-change factor is so far small but it is bound to get bigger," Von Braun said. "That is the long-term worry and the markets are trying to internalise it."

The WFP is holding an emergency meeting in Rome on Friday, at which its senior managers will meet board members to brief them on the scale of the problem. There will then be a case-by-case assessment of the seriousness of the situation in the affected countries, before the WFP formally asks for an increased budget at its executive board meeting in June.

But the donor countries are also facing higher fuel and transport costs. For the biggest US food-aid programme, non-food costs now account for 65% of total programme expenditure.

Global impact: Where inflation bites deepest

1. United States
The last time America's grain silos were so empty was in the early Seventies, when the Soviet Union bought much of the harvest. Washington is telling the WFP it is facing a 40% increase in food commodity prices compared with last year, and higher fuel bills to transport it, so the US, the biggest single food aid contributor, will radically cut the amount it gives away.

2. Morocco
Thirty-four people jailed this month for taking part in riots over food prices.

3. Egypt
The world's largest importer of wheat has been hard hit by the global price rises, and most of the increase will be absorbed in increased subsidies. The government has also had to relax the rules on who is eligible for food aid, adding an extra 10,5-million people.

4. Eritrea
It could be one of the states hardest hit in Africa because of its reliance on imports. The price rises will hit urban populations not previously thought vulnerable to a lack of food.

5. Zimbabwe
With annual inflation of 100 000% and unemployment at 80%, price increases on staples can only worsen the severe food shortages.

6. Yemen
Prices of bread and other staples have nearly doubled in the past four months, sparking riots in which at least a dozen people were killed.

7. Russia
The government struck a deal with producers last year to freeze the price of milk, eggs, vegetable oil, bread and kefir (a fermented milk drink). The freeze was due to last until the end of January but was extended for another three months.

8. Afghanistan
President Hamid Karzai has asked the WFP to feed an extra 2,5-million people, who are now in danger of malnutrition as a result of a harsh winter and the effect of high world prices in a country that is heavily dependent on imports.

9. Pakistan
President Pervez Musharraf announced this month that Pakistan would be going back to ration cards for the first time since the 1980s after the sharp increase in the price of staples. These will help the poor (nearly half the population) buy subsidised flour, wheat, sugar, pulses and cooking fat from state-owned outlets.

10. India
The government will spend 250-billion rupees on food security. India is the world's second biggest wheat producer but bought 5,5-million tonnes in 2006, and 1,8-million tonnes last year, driving up world prices. It has banned the export of all forms of rice other than luxury basmati.

11. China
Unusually severe blizzards have dramatically cut agricultural production and sent prices for food staples soaring. The overall food inflation rate is 18,2%. The cost of pork has increased by more than half. The cost of food was rising fast even before the bad weather moved in, as an increasingly prosperous population began to demand as staples agricultural products previously seen as luxuries. The government has increased taxes and imposed quotas on food exports, while removing duties on food imports.

12. Thailand
The government is planning to freeze prices of rice, cooking oil and noodles.

13. Malaysia and the Philippines
Malaysia is planning strategic stockpiles of the country's staples. Meanwhile, the Philippines has made an unusual plea to Vietnam to guarantee its rice supplies. Imports were previously left to the global market.

14. Indonesia
Food price rises have triggered protests and the government has had to increase its food subsidies by over a third to contain public anger.

FAQ: Food prices
Few winners and many losers

What is the problem?
In the three decades to 2005, world food prices fell by about three-quarters in inflation-adjusted terms, according to the Economist food prices index. Since then they have risen by 75%, with much of that coming in the past year. Wheat prices have doubled, while maize, Soya and oilseeds are at record highs.

Why are food prices rising?
The booming world economy has driven up prices for all commodities. Changes in diets have also played a big part. Meat consumption in many countries has soared, pushing up demand for the grain needed by cattle. Demand for biofuels has also risen strongly. This year, for example, one third of the US maize crop will go to make biofuels. Moreover, the gradual reform and liberalisation of agricultural subsidy programmes in the US and Europe have reduced the butter and grain mountains of yesteryear by eliminating overproduction.

Who are the winners and losers?
Farmers are the obvious winners, as are poor countries that rely extensively on food exports. But consumers are having to pay more, and the urban poor in many developing states will be hardest hit, as they often spend more than a third of their income on food.

How long are prices likely to be high?
The US Department for Agriculture says the country's wheat stocks are at their lowest for 50 years and demand will continue to exceed supply this year. There is potential to bring more land into production in countries such as Ukraine, but that could take time. And as all foodstuffs have risen sharply in price there is little incentive for farmers to switch from one crop to another.

What about the EU's common agricultural policy?
High food prices certainly remove the need to subsidise farmers and so there is a chance, say experts, that badly needed reductions in CAP subsidies, which cost European taxpayers dearly, could now be within reach.

Are other commodity prices also rising?
Oil, metals and coal have seen their prices rise strongly as the global economy has expanded rapidly, driving up demand for almost everything, particularly from emerging economies such as China and India. Some economists think speculation may also play a part. Disappointed by the subprime collapse and falling property values in many countries, investors have piled money into commodities. -- © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

Sheep Aids hits hundreds of farms

Sheep Aids hits hundreds of farms

February 25 2008 at 07:22AM

By Karen Breytenbach

The Department of Agriculture has appealed to Western Cape sheep farmers to remain calm in the face of the spread to hundreds of farms of Ovine Johne's Disease, better known as "sheep Aids" because of the emaciation it causes.

The disease was first detected on 47 farms in Caledon, Ceres and Mossel Bay a decade ago, but has slowly spread to hundreds of farms, especially in the Caledon area and Southern Cape. Some cases were also reported in Cradock in Eastern Cape.

But the Western Cape Agriculture Department has moved to reassure farmers that their interests would be protected. "The situation is under control, we have vets working on it full-time," said spokesperson Alie van Jaarsveld.

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'The situation is under control'
Johne's Disease (OJD), or paratuberculosis, is a chronic and contagious disease found worldwide, characterised by persistent diarrhoea, weight loss, debilitation and eventual death.

It is considered a problem in South Africa because it is hard to detect and can cause losses of up to 20 percent of sheep in very infected flocks.

During a 1996/7 survey of 1 718 farms, when 47 showed infection, tests were ineffective, causing half of infected farms to skip detection.

Van Jaarsveld said an official count of sheep affected was not available yet, but the mutton market could suffer if it spread further and it was decided on slaughtering.

For now, the Small Stock Health Advisory Body has urged that heavily infected areas be declared "OJD Control Areas" to allow free movement of live
animals within these confines, but to prevent their transportation to the outside world, except for slaughter.
'We have vets working on it full-time'

The body also advised farmers to vaccinate their sheep and announced the requirement of vendor declarations on their flocks' OJD status.

OJD surveys would be conducted in areas that had not so far come across infection.

Van Jaarsveld said the enforcement of the Animal Disease Regulations, requiring the isolation and slaughter of infected animals and the isolation and testing of all animals in contact with them, would hit sheep farmers hard.

"In an effort to minimise this impact, but at the same time to prevent spread of this disease to uninfected flocks and areas, the veterinary services... launched an intensive round of workshops and meetings with the view to formulate a policy to address this situation," Van Jaarsveld said.

This led to the formation of the advisory body, which will present its final policy proposals to Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana and provincial authorities for acceptance and promulgation into law.

The provincial department would also provide funding for post-graduate research on OJD.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Isaiah 30 (New International Version)

Isaiah 30 (New International Version)

New International Version (NIV)

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Isaiah 30

Woe to the Obstinate Nation
1 "Woe to the obstinate children,"
declares the LORD,
"to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;

2 who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh's protection,
to Egypt's shade for refuge.

3 But Pharaoh's protection will be to your shame,
Egypt's shade will bring you disgrace.

4 Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,

5 everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace."

6 An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev:
Through a land of hardship and distress,
of lions and lionesses,
of adders and darting snakes,
the envoys carry their riches on donkeys' backs,
their treasures on the humps of camels,
to that unprofitable nation,

7 to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless.
Therefore I call her
Rahab the Do-Nothing.

8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come
it may be an everlasting witness.

9 These are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD's instruction.

10 They say to the seers,
"See no more visions!"
and to the prophets,
"Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.

11 Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!"

12 Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says:
"Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,

13 this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.

14 It will break in pieces like pottery,
shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
for taking coals from a hearth
or scooping water out of a cistern."

15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

16 You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

17 A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill."

18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." 22 Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, "Away with you!"

23 He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. 25 In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. 26 The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

27 See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar,
with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;
his lips are full of wrath,
and his tongue is a consuming fire.

28 His breath is like a rushing torrent,
rising up to the neck.
He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction;
he places in the jaws of the peoples
a bit that leads them astray.

29 And you will sing
as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;
your hearts will rejoice
as when people go up with flutes
to the mountain of the LORD,
to the Rock of Israel.

30 The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice
and will make them see his arm coming down
with raging anger and consuming fire,
with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.

31 The voice of the LORD will shatter Assyria;
with his scepter he will strike them down.

32 Every stroke the LORD lays on them
with his punishing rod
will be to the music of tambourines and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

33 Topheth has long been prepared;
it has been made ready for the king.
Its fire pit has been made deep and wide,
with an abundance of fire and wood;
the breath of the LORD,
like a stream of burning sulfur,
sets it ablaze.