Fuel prices could leave more hungry

A mother holds her child and relief goods she received from the World Food Program at a camp in Jakarta in February.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Gas prices are on the rise, as I'm sure you've seen, and that's had a near-universal impact. Because even if you don't drive or take the bus, chances are you use products that are transported. Everything from household goods to food. And no matter who you are our where you live, you've gotta eat. Now some of the most vulnerable people on the globe are feeling the impact of pricier food. The World Food Program, or WFP, says its going to be harder to feed the world's hungry on its budget. But the group's blaming more than just gas prices. From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.


Helen Palmer: As many as 850 million people go hungry worldwide. The World Food Program feeds about 90 million of them. Its $2.7 billion budget won't stretch any further. But it may feed fewer in the future because of rising food prices, says the WFP's Greg Barrow.

Greg Barrow: One big factor is the growth in the economies in China and India, economies that are now consuming vast amounts of food on the global marketplace.

Barrow says the diversion of food crops to biofuels is another factor that's putting the WFP in a tight corner, and the world should take note.

Nancy Childs agrees. She's a professor of food marketing at St Joseph's University.

Nancy Childs: We have to look at the real cost of developing biofuels and the sustainability of the fuels. But more importantly, there's the opportunity cost that this acreage is not going to food crops.

That can make food even more expensive. Childs also points out that we're at a time of major change in the food production chain, as more people move to cities and have to buy food, instead of growing it themselves. On top of that, global warming could cut food production in some areas.

Marc Cohen of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says what's really needed is a better global method to feed the hungry.

Marc Cohen: But I think there needs to be a more structural longterm response as well, so that humanitarian assistance is not in this hat-in-hand mode.

But Cohen sees a silver lining to biofuels. Maybe farmers in the developing world could get in on that boom. Indeed, even rising food prices may have a benefit, says Cohen, because they can help small farmers earn a living.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: One more oil item before we move on today. Crude closed at $74.15 a barrel in New York. That's up about 22 cents. Pricey enough, but perhaps a bargain by this fall. Analysts at Goldman Sachs said today they figure oil could hit $90 by late autumn unless OPEC backs off its production cuts. That's not something the cartel's been talking about doing.

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