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Protect the urban poor from food price rise

This commentary (see Biofuel revolution threatens food security for the poor) fails to divide the poor into those who will benefit from higher prices and those who will not.

The low food prices that have prevailed over the past decades have helped keep rural populations poor, and have worked to prevent the uptake of technologies that would expand their productivity. These poor people will benefit from the higher prices that the increased demand associated with biofuels is causing. Some of them may even be lifted out of poverty by the biofuel opportunity, even if their product is not directed into biofuels.

The people who do suffer are the urban poor, but they are a relatively small fraction of the global poor. The way to assure lower prices for the urban poor, particularly in Africa, is to subsidise fertilizer inputs as reported in recent SciDev.Net articles about Malawi. However, rather than using foreign aid for this it is necessary to establish now that this will be achieved by a tax on the urban disposable wealth which results from lower food costs.

If Africa were to achieve the potential productivity that fertilizer and available technologies make possible, the added supplies of grains and oilseeds would buffer the market pressures and drive sustainable development. Increased value for rural products cannot be a bad thing considering the numbers of people in these areas.