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Food For Thought: Hunger a Growing Concern in MI and Abroad

November 30, 2009

LANSING, Mich. - In Michigan households, the holidays often mean stockpiling pantries with food for special dinners and gatherings. However, this year the number of American families unable to put sufficient food on the table is at its highest level in more than a decade, according to a new report from the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The situation is even worse in developing countries. Americans spend about 15 percent of their income on groceries, but in some undeveloped nations families spend 60 percent or more of their income on food.

Oxfam America spokesman Gowayne Kripke says people in poor countries suffer the consequences when food commodity prices are near record highs, as they are now.

"The impact of rising commodity prices on American households is much smaller because Americans as a whole have relatively more income and because the food we buy tends to be much more processed. The commodity itself is much less important here, whereas in developing countries it is much more important. There, poor people buy food in a more raw form and spend a much larger percent of their their money on it."

Although foreign food aid does treat the symptoms of hunger, Kripke says the solution is to improve people's self-sufficiency by funding programs that improve agricultural productivity in poor countries.

In undeveloped countries, commodity prices increased 85 percent in the last couple of years before leveling off. Kripke says prices still are far above historic levels, and he predicts they will increase again as the U.S. recession winds down.

"The reason for that is, mainly, that demand is growing: Very big, growing populations overseas are becoming more affluent and therefore, able to buy more food. This is especially true in countries like China and India, where you have almost 2 billion people."

Kripke says as demand for food increases in the more-developed countries, about 1 billion people in less-developed nations will continue to fight hunger on a daily basis.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI