The human face of global food price rises is often missing amongst the abstract discussions of macro-economic trends and global food price indices. In order to understand the impact of the rise in global food prices through much of 2010 and into early 2011, Oxfam and research partners from the Institute of Development Studies spoke to people effected in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, and Zambia.
The research offers insights into how economic shocks of this kind work to increase and perpetuate inequality, producing consistent patterns of ‘weak losers’ and ‘strong winners’. Key findings show that poor people do not merely cope by working harder, eating less, living more frugally, drawing down resources and assets, and managing on a day-to-day basis. They also respond politically: they contest official explanations of the causes, and they roundly criticise their governments for failing to act effectively. They analyse the causes of the problems they face as political problems, identifying a lack of responsiveness to their needs, and corruption and collusion among powerful politicians and business interests, as among the sources of the problems they face.
Such findings point to the need for a twin-track response to food price spikes: dynamic, accountable and progressive action by national governments, backed by greatly improved, co-ordinated responses at the global level. Whether the primary concern is people’s well-being, or political stability, food price spikes should be a cause both for concern and for action. At a time of growing political unrest around the world, the stress and discontent fuelled by high food prices merits close attention.