Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Security or Scarcity

There's something ironic about Porfirio Lobo Sosa announcing today that 2011 is the year of food security when food prices are skyrocketing and the government is doing nothing to assure food supplies.

Case in point, beans. Beans are a staple of the Honduran diet, eaten twice a day. Beans began their price climb last august, surging from $0.45 to a high of $1.20 a pound in November. The government installed price controls in December and set a price of $0.73 a pound, but failed to enforce it, so the farmers market price remained around $0.85 to $0.95 a pound. Since the harvest in January, the price has backed off to $0.94 cents in farmers markets in Tegucigalpa, but the supply remains weak. Banasupro stopped coming to farmer's markets and selling beans at $0.63 a pound. To get that price now, residents must queue up at one of the 12 Banasupro stores in the country.

Case in point, corn. Corn is another staple in the Honduran diet, consumed as tortillas, tamales, pupusas, and as the beverage atole. Nearly 40 percent of this year's crop is destroyed due to the use of "improved" seed from Nicaragua that brought with it a blight that reduces yields from 40-70 percent. Tortillas have gone from $0.02 each to $0.10 each in the market, or $1.32 a pound. IHMA, the Instituto HondureƱo de Mercadeo Agricola, assures the country there is adequate supply, but so far has failed to release any grain to try and bring prices down.

Case in point, flour. Flour is used in Honduras to bake bread, and more importantly, make flour tortillas for baleadas. Another case in point is fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cauliflower, yuca, cabbage, potatoes, and eggplants. Eggs are $0.20 each. Pork is over $3 a pound, beef likewise. There is no staple food in Honduras that has not gone up sharply this year.

The Agriculture Minister, Jacobo Regalado, says there's no shortages of basic grains like corn or beans, but shortages are used to explain the high prices for these products in the market today. Is it all speculation removing grain from the market to artificially drive up prices? That would explain the apparent inconsistency between what the Agriculture Minister claims about supply versus what the market is experiencing.

If that's the case, it is incumbent on the self described christian humanist government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa to do something about the speculation. Yet it does nothing.

In any case, the irony of declaring this the year of food security and nutrition in light of the apparent shortages of basic grains was not lost on some sectors of the Honduran population who questioned the launch of this new program.

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