Thursday, July 10, 2008

IRIN on Global Inflation and Kenya girls at risk - Thurs 7/10/2008

GLOBAL: Why everything costs more

JOHANNESBURG, 8 July (IRIN) - A rough guide to why food prices keep going up

What is the crisis?
For the first time since 1973, the world has been hit by a combination of record high food and fuel prices. The price of oilseeds and grains, such as wheat and maize, has doubled since January 2006, with over 60 percent of the hike taking place since January 2008, according to the World Bank. Rice more than tripled between January and May 2008.

Prices have begun to fall as the 2008 crop is being harvested, but recent floods in US states producing maize and soya-beans, and poor weather conditions in Australia have slowed the decline.

Since 2001, oil has rocketed from US$20 a barrel to an unprecedented $140. The World Bank says oil prices are now higher than any time in the last century, not only pushing up the price of food in poor countries importing staple grains and fuel, but also eroding their capacity to buy food.

Why have prices shot up suddenly?
The short answer is that global cereal stocks have not kept pace with growing demand, and neither has the oil supply. Stocks of cereals have been declining worldwide since 2000, while demand has been increasing at two to three percent per year.

In the last two years, cereal stocks have fallen to levels last seen in the 1970s for two main reasons: firstly, major wheat-producing countries such as Australia suffered droughts in 2006 and 2007; secondly, the hike in fuel prices saw the US and many European countries offer subsidies to their farmers to grow grain for biofuel. The switch from growing food to growing fuel pushed up prices by 30 to 70 percent, depending on which study you read.

Some analysts have blamed high food prices on the burgeoning economies of China, India and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where more people can now afford to include meat and other animal products in their diet, which in turn has driven up the demand for grains used as feed.

However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says recent high commodity prices do not seem to have originated in these emerging markets: neither China nor India are big cereal importers in the 2007/08 season. In fact, China is exporting maize and India's wheat imports are relatively small.

Various food analysts say the production of grains has dropped because of rising chemical fertiliser prices, which have doubled and even tripled in some parts of the world, making it unaffordable to most farmers in developing countries.

Other analysts have attributed low cereal stocks to the cumulative effect of changes in the agricultural policies of developed countries, particularly in Europe, where farm subsidies have been shrinking, and a drop in investment in agricultural research to develop high-yield varieties since the 1990s.

But the price spikes recorded in 2008, particularly in rice, have been linked to export restrictions imposed by rice-producing countries, including India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Egypt, which together supplied around 40 percent of global rice exports in 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Didn't anyone see the crisis coming?
Since 2006 the FAO has warned of a possible food price crisis in its periodic updates on global cereal stocks.What has been the fallout of the crisis?The impact of increasingly expensive food has been wide-ranging, deepening poverty levels and pushing even more people into poverty. According to a recent World Bank study, at least another 105 million across the world will become poor.

Simulations in this study suggest that in Africa alone nearly another 30 million people will fall into poverty: in Sierra Leone the food crisis has raised poverty by three percentage points, to 69 percent; in Djibouti, rising food prices over the past three years are estimated to have increased extreme poverty from 40 percent to 54 percent.Various UN agencies have warned that unaffordable food could drive up the number of undernourished people in the world - already at 800 million - while poor people have begun skipping meals or switching to cheaper and lower quality cereals, affecting their health.

A recent FAO assessment in Somalia found that 2.6 million people - approximately 35 percent of the population, of which more than half are children - had been affected by a nutrition crisis caused by drought and prolonged conflict. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance in Somalia could reach an estimated 3.5 million - half the total population - by the end of 2008.

According to the World Bank, even stable, high-growth countries are not immune to the damaging effects of escalating food prices on child nutrition. In India, for instance, 47 percent of children are stunted - double the rate in sub-Saharan Africa, where 24 percent experience delayed development - and nearly five times that of China, where just over nine percent of children are stunted.The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) says 1.5 to 1.8 million more children in India are at risk of malnourishment as households cut back on meals or switch to less nutritious foods to cope with rising prices.

Expensive food and fuel have also had political fallout: since 2007, high prices have sparked violent protests in at least 17 countries, mostly in Africa; earlier in 2008, the government of Haiti fell after week-long protests.The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is committed to promoting democracy and assisting developing countries, noted that each 10 percent increase in the prices of cereals adds nearly $4.5 billion to the import bills of poorer countries.

An FAO study recently noted that at least seven countries - Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Zimbabwe, Jordan and Moldova - which have all chalked up high levels of debt - could be forced to spend as much as two percent of their gross domestic product on importing food. Most of these countries are already struggling with chronic hunger, so soaring food costs hold the threat of political instability.

Surely higher food prices benefit small-scale farmers?
Yes, logically they should. But very few subsistence farmers in Africa produce surplus food, and are mostly net buyers. Simulated studies by FAO found that rural households in countries where land was not equitably distributed - which is the case in most developing countries - would be worst affected.

The World Bank has also found that although farmers who produce surplus food might be better protected, even they might not benefit from the food price surge because the cost of inputs like fuel, fertiliser and transportation often rose faster than world market prices for food.

Agriculture experts say that unless governments subsidise inputs, poverty levels in rural households could deepen, and the prospects for beefing up global cereal stocks look bleak. The World Bank has called for subsidies aimed at poor and small-scale farmers for a limited period to boost yields, as part of a package that should include investment in extension, research and rural infrastructure.

When will food prices come down?
High prices may boost production in 2008, which in turn may push down prices, provided there are no natural disasters. But any major expansion of agricultural land in the short term is unlikely, says FAO, and any increase in plantings of one crop would need to occur at the expense of another. So, while the price of a certain food commodity might fall, the prices of others might increase.

Short-term price forecasts for food commodities are difficult because they are linked to other markets, such as energy. A recent FAO/OECD medium-term outlook for major agricultural commodities said prices were likely to remain high for the next decade.

Can the situation be turned around?
Many agriculture experts are pushing for a new "Green Revolution", which doubled cereal production between 1970 and 1995 in South Asia. Money and investment in developing high-yielding varieties of maize, wheat and rice, combined with access to pesticides, irrigation and fertiliser, could have a dramatic impact.But this would require huge amounts of money: between $15 and $20 billion a year, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Aid agencies and other non-governmental organisations are lobbying the G8 and other leaders meeting in Japan this week to beef up investment in agriculture in developing countries.



KENYA: Post-violence sex work boom

MOMBASA, 9 July (IRIN) - Like thousands of other Kenyans, Susan Wairimu, 17, was displaced from her home in the Rift Valley Province's Molo district during the violence that followed a disputed presidential election in December 2007 and sought shelter in the nearby town of Nakuru.

A cousin living in the coastal town of Mombasa offered to accommodate her until the violence ended, offering an escape from the single tent she shared with her parents at the displaced persons camp in Nakuru.

"I had no idea of the kind of work my cousin used to do in the beginning; I came to know some few days after my arrival, when she told me she operates as a call girl from the beaches."

Kenya's coast is one of its most popular tourist destinations: an estimated two million tourists visited Kenya in 2007, many of them heading for the Indian Ocean towns of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu, where commercial sex work is one of the main ways many women earn money.

Before long Wairimu was introduced to the business of selling sex. "We now have the skills and have learnt that the amount of money a man parts with will determine the kind of pleasure we will offer him. For example, making love without a condom will cost a client more money than using one," she said.

"The killing in my village taught me a lesson and prepared me for a tough life, and now I do not fear death any more," she added. "I do not fear HIV and I believe that you will die when your day arrives, and the disease will not determine, but only God."

Wairimu accepts as little as 300 Kenya shillings (US$4.50) for an entire night, sometimes with two men.

Locals at the coast say sex workers in the region traditionally used to target wealthy foreign tourists, usually from Europe. Today, a fall in tourist numbers after the post-election violence and an increased number of sex workers means every man, old or young, black or white, is seen as a potential customer.

Wairimu is one of an estimated two hundred girls between 15 and 18 years of age who are now engaged in full-time sex work along Kenya's coast, according to Solidarity with Women in Distress (SOLWODI), a local non-governmental organisation that sensitises sex workers to the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

Increase in child sex trade

Child sex work is not uncommon along the coast; a 2006 study [] by the government and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found that up to 30 percent of teenagers in some coastal areas were involved in casual sex for cash.Agnetta Mirikau, a child protection specialist with UNICEF Kenya, told IRIN/PlusNews that the organisation had received reports of an increase in the child sex trade since the election.SOLWODI's field coordinator in Mombasa, Grace Odembo, told IRIN/PlusNews that most of the girls who resorted to sex work were high school drop-outs, which would make it difficult for them to find formal employment.

"The girls have opted to sell their bodies in order to get money for survival," Odembo said. "We try as much as we can ... to convince them out of [sex work]."

The 2006 study also found that 35.5 percent of all sex acts involving children and tourists took place without condoms, putting the girls at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The HIV prevalence in Kenya's Coast Province is 5.9 percent, higher than the national average of 5.1 percent.

SOLWODI runs counselling, return-to-school programmes and vocational skills training for girls who wish to get out of the trade. Since its formation in 1997, the organisation has managed to get 5,000 girls and women to leave the sex industry.

Hoteliers often turn a blind eye to residents bringing underage girls into their rooms, but some have a more strict policy regarding commercial sex on their premises.

"We never accommodate any visitors who try to check into our hotels with young-looking girls until we get some required details about the girl," Mohammed Hersi, general manager of the Mombasa's Sarova White Sands Beach Hotel, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"[We usually] establish who the girls are, what they are up to and, most important, their ages."

SOLWODI also trains hotels to implement an existing code of conduct to prevent sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism sector, but by late 2007, only 20 hotels had signed the code of conduct.

The deputy mayor of Mombasa, John Mcharo, said keeping the girls off the streets was difficult. "Yes, we can arrest the girls but only charge them with loitering, just like we've done before, but this can't stop the girls from finding their way back to the streets and beaches as soon as they come out of our custody."

Girls at the beach generally wear bathing suits, so it is difficult to distinguish between sex workers trawling the beach for customers and girls who are simply enjoying a day at the beach.

Local law enforcement officers and religious leaders have called on the government to do more to stop underage girls selling sex in the area. "The government has to come up with a special programme that can get the girls not only off the beaches but off the streets," said Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, organising secretary of the council of Imams and preachers of Kenya.

He added that his organisation frequently held workshops to urge underage girls to quit the trade, and provided them with spiritual guidance.

The government has a children's department in every district, which is responsible for the protection of children from exploitation and abuse. According to Patrick Wafula, of the Mombasa police department, much of the work of the department's special tourism unit consists of arresting the perpetrators of child sex abuse and exploitation.

"We usually carry out raids in areas we suspect to be meeting points for the girls and their potential clients," he said.

The government also recently expanded the child protection units at police stations, adding children's officers and improving judicial services, so that they are now better prepared to handle children's issues.



No comments: