The following is a portion of a story which appeared in The Washington Post yesterday. It is one of those stories that not only broadens our worldview, but provides a generous amount of reflection.
“Where Every Meal is a Sacrifice”
By Anthony Faiola
(NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, Africa) Even before he took a butcher knife to the she-goat’s throat, Likbir Ould Mohamed Mahmoud knew it would only make things worse.
The goat was a living bounty in this parched city on the Sahara’s edge, providing the sweet milk that filled his family’s stomachs at breakfast time. But as soaring food prices worldwide have hit the poorest nations of Africa the hardest, he has been forced to join many of his neighbors in slaughtering or selling off one of their only sources of wealth — their livestock.
By sacrificing the she-goat last month, the 39-year-old day laborer and goatherd traded the family’s morning milk for dinner meat. It lasted a few days. With the family unable to afford skyrocketing prices for basic foods, he said, his two young children now cry in the morning from hunger. One recent morning, he could take it no more. He took the goat’s kid — one of the last two animals in his flock — to the squalid livestock market here in the hopes of selling it to buy food. “Everything — the wheat, rice, sugar and animal feeds — is higher priced than I have ever seen them before,” he said. “What will we do? Soon we will have nothing left to sell.”
Like most of the world’s poorest nations, Mauritania is caught in a global food trap, producing only 30 percent of what its people eat and importing most of the rest. As prices skyrocket, those who can least afford it are squeezed the most as the world confronts the worst bout of food inflation since the Soviet grain crisis of the 1970s.
Strong global demand and limited supplies are key factors driving up prices, but perhaps just as important is a massive disruption in the free flow of global trade. In recent months, food-producing countries from Argentina to Kazakhstan have begun to slam shut their doors to protect domestic access to the food they grow.
Agriculturally challenged countries are left out in the cold. Mahmoud, whose family dwells just beyond the dunes in a desert shantytown here, earns roughly $1.50 a day to support his family of four. His wages have not risen. But over the past six months, the cost of the imported wheat his wife uses to make a chewy local bread has soared 67 percent, cooking oil is up 117 percent and rice 25 percent. Though those are the staples of life here, Mauritania, with only 0.2 percent of its land arable, produces scant amounts.
That is partly because there are fewer and fewer farmers. In a nation girdled by the encroaching Sahara, the slums of Nouakchott, the capital, are swelled with former tillers of soil who abandoned hard lives growing subsistence crops amid years of drought. City life was comparatively better, but in recent months as food prices have risen, those already living on the smallest of margins have despaired.
“I don’t know how I will feed my family,” Mahmoud said. “We just can’t afford it.”
Click here to watch the accompanying video. You’ll be glad you took the time.