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Not a very bright future for many.......

Illustration credited to John Shakespeare, SMH

Let it not be said that the news of what many in the world face in relation to the availability of food in the future isn't grim. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the misery of many will, correspondingly, benefit a few of the very rich.

"The world has entered a new food crisis. Prices have surged, contributing to unrest in the Arab world. The president of the World Bank, the former US deputy secretary of state Bob Zoellick, last week warned that global food prices are at "dangerous levels."

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"If there is so much food available, why are prices soaring and why is one-sixth of humanity permanently hungry?

There are old and new problems. The most glaring of the old include protectionism in the richest countries. The European Union spends about $365 billion every year subsidising uneconomic farmers and shutting out food exports. The US and Japan are almost as bad.

This tactic, which has distorted the world food system, would be ruled illegal in any other area of global trade, except that the rich countries, while successfully dismantling barriers to trade in manufactures and services, have kept the corrupt farm trade system off the agenda of the World Trade Organisation.

Then there is poverty: 1 billion people who subsist on $1 a day cannot afford to buy food.

There are three new problems. One is the "financialisation" of food. Big investors have come to treat the major traded commodities - including food - as instruments of portfolio investment and speculation.

In 2003, index funds had $13 billion invested in commodities in US markets. By 2008, this had reached $317 billion."

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