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Friday 11 April 2008
Letters: World food markets
Riots show how food markets fail to work for the poor
Sir: The Haitian food riots illustrate the impossible situation that developing countries are in. Aid and trade policies imposed by rich countries have made developing countries more dependent on international markets. Aid for agriculture is now less than half what it was in 1984. At the same time, governments in the developing world have been encouraged by aid donors to open their markets to imports to meet consumer needs.
Recent price rises have proved this to be a high-risk strategy. Developing countries spend twice as much of their hard-earned foreign exchange on food imports as in 2000. It's the poor who suffer. Even farmers need to purchase some food. Any increase in the price they get for their produce is not enough to offset the higher prices for the food they buy. And as Haiti shows, in the cities price rises are becoming a political flashpoint.
In the long run, the interests of both producers and consumers can only be met by increasing agricultural productivity at home. Food producers – who make up most of the 854 million people in the world who go hungry daily – could then meet more of their own needs, and by selling more would reduce the upward pressure on domestic prices. Consumers too would consequently feel the benefit of a more stable supply.
Dr Claire Melamed
Head, Trade and Corporates Action, Aid UK, London N19
Sir: Your report on the global grain shortage ("Starving Haitains riot as food prices soar", 10 April ) is a sign of a catastrophe facing the world. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), according to your report, can only advise governments to improve crop irrigation and storage. The FAO fails to mention the two major causes of the impending crisis: land being used to produce biofuel, and food grains being diverted to feed animals raised for meat.
In the last two years the US has diverted 60 million tonnes of food to fuel. Almost 60 billion animals are raised worldwide for meat every year and the grains needed to feed them could feed over 4 billion human beings. From South America to Africa to Asia the double whammy of biofuel and grains diverted to feed animals is beginning to cause hunger.
The world population is set to rise to 9.5 billion in a few years and unless we in the West and the rising middle classes of China and India revert to a plant-based vegetarian and vegan diet, mass starvation is a certainty. Biofuel is supposed to be good for the environment, but it is the billions of farm animals that are contributing more to global warming than all the world's transport put together.
Euro confounds the sceptics
Sir: Your economics editor (10 April), does well to remind us of the misleading eurosceptic propaganda about the durability of the euro. He also emphasises the extent to which the pound sterling has fluctuated against it. A rise in sterling by more than 20 per cent in the early years has recently been followed by a steep fall to far below the initial level.
With the uncertainty of a fluctuating exchange rate opposite our main market, it is hardly surprising that UK industrial investment has fallen by almost a third over the past decade, whereas that in the eurozone has maintained its level. Also, despite occasional false dawns, our industrial production has been essentially flat, whilst that in the eurozone has expanded by 25 per cent.
Given that they have been facing the same competitive challenge from the emerging world as we have, why the difference? Could operating from a huge home market with a common currency have been an advantage not only in Europe but in worldwide competition? Perhaps it is time to re-examine the prevailing eurosceptic orthodoxy.
Sir: You say that the euro "would help to attract foreign investment". But the latest available OECD figures show that in 2006 Britain attracted more foreign direct investment than France and Germany combined.
It's clear that Britain doesn't need the single currency to succeed in the global economy. Indeed, if Britain is luring foreign investors so successfully, why would we want to shackle ourselves through the euro to an economic area in long-term decline?
Martin Callanan MEP (C, North-East England), Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: There are a couple of questions missing from your Economics Editor's helpful question-and-answer piece on currency fluctuations. Is what is happening not what used to be called a devaluation of the pound? And, if so, why is the erstwhile dreaded term no longer used?
North Tamerton, Cornwall
We're next for the Olympic curse
Sir: I fear that the Olympic torch fiasco presages much worse for the summer to come. Already we hear the bleat "Let us keep politics out of sport", which is trotted out every time sport is shown for what it is – an exercise in chauvinism and xenophobia. Trying to keep politics out of sport makes as much sense as trying to keep sex out of pornography.
The Olympic Games have become a ludicrous excess of beggar-my-neighbour international ostentation as city after city goes to absurd lengths to put on a bigger show than its predecessor. Cities such as Atlanta and Barcelona are bankrupted for decades, so that some young, strong, chemically-enhanced millionaire can be seen to be able to run slightly faster than some other young, strong chemically-enhanced millionaire.
What of the ideals of sportsmanship and comradely rivalry? Sport is about winning and someone else losing. I never once met a sportsman who ever displayed any of those noble ideals which they ascribe to themselves, such as fair play and putting the game ahead of the result.
In 2012, the Olympic curse falls on London. In that dreadful long, hot summer four years from now, when Terminal Five will be fixed and already bursting at the seams, life in London will become a foretaste of hell. The underground will not be able to cope, the streets will be lined with steel barriers and there will be armed police on every corner. Citizens will be subject to random identity checks and will find themselves waiting in the heat and pollution for even longer than they do at present while Tube stations are closed "for security reasons" or streets are closed off awaiting the bomb disposal squad.
But will the 2012 London Olympics be a success? They certainly will be because they are a political event staged for politicians who will declare them a success whatever happens.
Sir: So Gordon is not going to the opening ceremony in Beijing. Big deal. Maybe he can also refrain from meeting CBI leaders who are now doing more business than ever with this "odious" regime.
Rights logo and the Dalai Lama's robes
Sir: In her article "UN blunders with human rights logo resembling robes of the Dalai Lama" (2 April) Anne Penketh says the UN "has been embarrassed" because of the colours it chose for the logo to commemorate this year's 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We are not embarrassed. Nor is it a blunder. The colours of the logo and those habitually worn by the Dalai Lama are – now you point it out – quite similar, though not identical. As the article itself says, this is a coincidence. Take any two colours and you will find they are used by someone else, somewhere else, for some other purpose.
It is also incorrect to say "the UN decided to ditch its blue and white logo" in favour of the new one. Neither the UN logo nor that of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is being replaced by the new logo, which was adopted specifically to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration.
Spokesperson, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva
Saving the forests really does help
Sir: The article about carbon offsetting (3 April; letters, 6 April) is confused. At first, it seems to say the entirety of rainforest preservation is a waste-of-time distraction designed only to make people feel good. Then, at the end, the "What you can do" section is all about rainforest preservation.
Recent studies led by Ken Caldeira at Stanford University suggest that intact tropical rainforests in particular are extremely important for their greenhouse gas storage potential, relative to, say, temperate forests.
There is a trend in climate discussions to devalue individual solutions (be it wind energy, alternative fuels, habitat preservation, conservation, investment in public transit infrastructure, and so on) because each one is not going to solve the climate crisis by itself.
There is, and will not be, any single solution to climate change. So let's get past the bickering, and move towards real climate solutions.
Dr Jason Hodin
Lab of Environmental Toxicology, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, California, USA
High-value design for the new coins
Sir: As an admirer of Richard Ingrams' usually insightful column, I was surprised and disappointed by his article criticising the new designs for the UK coinage (5 April).
Mr Ingrams says it intrigues him "how it could take three years to produce designs which anyone else could probably run up in the course of an afternoon". Is Mr Ingrams suggesting that anyone, and by implication himself, could generate and develop a workable design?
The design process begins with getting an idea. It would then include finding the appropriate reference, organising the heraldic elements, choosing acceptable lettering, then sizing and spacing the lettering and image to produce a visual good enough to convince the illustrious but diverse Royal Mint design board to choose it from a large number of entries.
Is he proposing that anyone could make the numerous adjustments required by the committee, then work with a skilled engraver to meet the demands of modern coining machinery whilst checking every detail at each stage to ensure perfection – and all in the course of an afternoon? Astonishing!
In my experience, far from being able to produce even a basic design, most people can seldom make a coherent visual statement of any kind, or distinguish good design from bad. Which is why professional organisations continue to employ professional designers.
Matthew Dent, the designer of our new coinage, graduated with a BA (Hons) in graphic design from the University of Brighton. If Mr Ingrams could spare three years, the Brighton design staff would be happy to try to instil some basic design principles into him, assuming, of course, that he has some natural aptitude and an ability to meet our entrance criteria.
Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design, University of Brighton
Undesirable aliens in our midst
Sir: With regard to the debate as to whether there should be a quota for immigrants, I wonder if instead there couldn't be a quota for racists? With their constant moaning, tedious text "jokes" and pathetic justifications for their beliefs, surely there is no place for them in society.
I'm sure the Government has difficulty keeping a track on the number of racists in the country, but perhaps such people could be asked to take a "tolerance test", at a cost of say, £500? Failure to pass the test would result in them being deported. I'm not sure where they should be sent, but perhaps Zimbabwe – I'm sure Mugabe would know how to deal with them.
Sir: Fred Phipps (letter, 10 April) is wrong to suggest that now the Diana death fiasco is over, we can "get on with sorting out who killed JFK". Clearly, in the interests of balance and justice, we should instead spend another £10m trying to prove or disprove that Mohamed Al Fayed recently infected Prince Philip's chest.
Sir: Andrew Neil's attempt (letter, 4 April) to rebut Johann Hari's argument that his BBC presenting is biased to the right merely proves Hari was correct. Neil claims child poverty has not increased as a result of welfare reform. He is then forced to admit that it has risen significantly in the decade since welfare reform was passed, but claims this is a coincidence. He is wrong. The welfare shelter where I worked in Chicago soon began to fill with moms and kids who had been cut off from benefits since the reforms.
Dr Yulia Markowitz
Sir: I was interested to read that Postman Pat is to be brought "up to date", using helicopters and parachutes, as a sort of Post Office answer to the Milk Tray man (report, 10 April). As a former employee of Royal Mail, who had much pride in the service, I feel a truer way to bring Pat "up to date" would be having him either on the dole or on a casual contract, with little or no career prospects. The village post office would be closed and poor old Mrs Goggins on benefits.
Martin J Bedford
Free to wander
Sir: Michael Bywater misses out a fundamental difference between maps and satnav (Extra, 9 April). Satnav tells you how to get from A to B: a map can show you what is just to the left or right of your journey. Since I started a project at Corby, my Ordnance Survey map has led me to the Eleanor Cross at Geddington, one of the longest rail viaducts in the UK and numerous attractive villages with nice pubs. My colleagues with satnav have found the shortest route from hotel to work.
Sir: All weekend I have listened to the BBC and Sky reporters talking of the "romance" of the FA cup. The romance being the fact that three championship sides made it to the semi-finals rather then the expected Premiership opponents. So romance is an underdog making it to a football final at Wembley. Now I understand the difference between men and women.
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