The crisis in world food prices is having a real impact on El Salvador's poor, especially those poor families in rural areas. The rise in prices of basic food stuffs was recently documented in a report issued by the Center for Defense of the Consumer. That report found:
- Among Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, El Salvador had the highest price for corn, a price which has gone up 39% in the past year. In Guatemala and Nicaragua, the price of corn actually decreased over that time period.
- Although El Salvador had a record harvest of beans in the last season, the price of beans went up 60% in the past 12 months.
- The price of rice went up 66% in the past 12 months. El Salvador had the highest price among those 4 countries.
- The cost of a basic family's market basket of goods has gone up 21% in rural areas and 14% in urban areas during that time.
An article by Raul Guttierez on the IPS news service expands on the problem:
World Food Programme (WFP) representative in El Salvador Carlo Scaramella told IPS that the United Nations agency is carrying out a study to assess the projected impact of food inflation on the poorest sectors of the population in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Although the results are not in yet, which means "the effects cannot be described in detail," it is possible to talk about what is already happening, which is that families have started to reorganise their budgets, he said.
"People have begun to have less access to food," and their diets have gone down in quality, as a result of their shrinking buying power, said Scaramella.
He also pointed out that the situation in rural areas is especially serious, because every poor household is now "much poorer."
"Today people can only afford half of what they could buy a year ago," particularly in terms of maize, beans and rice, whose cost has risen twofold, said the U.N. official.
What are the causes of this spike in prices? There are many -- the increase in the price of oil, the decline of the value of the US dollar (El Salvador's currency), the increased demand for corn caused by US ethanol/biofuel policy, agricultural policies in El Salvador which have not promoted food security, and increased demand worldwide for food. There are no short term fixes for the high prices, and few of these causes are within El Salvador's power to control. To prevent hunger, the government may need to focus first on providing means for people to get food.