For the last week or so Bolivia has been rocked by massive strikes from groups as diverse as teachers, doctors, and miners. Because of the skyrocketing costs of food, everyone is trying to get paid more in their job to make up the difference. There’s all sorts of crazy Bolivian economic policies that I could talk (and/or vent) about that are based on shaky economics, they don’t really have much to do with the unrest…they just pile on to the problems.
Even if Bolivia had the best possible economic policies (I’m not going to say I or anybody else knows what those would be), it still would be having a lot of the same issues, just because of the huge increase in food prices. The World Bank just released numbers saying the the food prices have risen 36% over this time last year! When you’re already working 10hrs/day, and spending up to half your money on food (the rest probably on housing), there’s simply no room in the budget for food prices changing like that. Thus you need more money to just get by. So, you go on strike to try to get that. When you have lots of different groups all on strike at the same time, then it starts to get crazy. There have been road blocks on all the major roads, miners exploding dynamite in La Paz, and doctors shutting down the clinics and hospitals.
The price increases aren’t just affecting the people of Bolivia either, but these prices are going to affect anyone who really has to watch the price of the food that they eat. I know that when I was living in St. Louis, this didn’t include us…we were blessed enough that we didn’t have to think about if we could afford the stuff on our shopping list, but I know there were people even living in our old neighborhood that did have to think about things like that.
So what can you do to help?
1) Eat less meat. Raising livestock (like cattle) takes a lot of food to feed the animals (more than 50 times what we get out of them), if there wasn’t the demand for so many animals to eat, more of that feed could go to feeding people. I’m not suggesting being a vegetarian, I don’t think I could do that unless I was forced to…but if everyone cut down their meat consumption by half, that would make a huge difference. Try to start thinking of meat as more of a reward or food for celebrations than something you eat on a daily basis.
2) Drive Less. (or get a more efficient car) A huge part of food prices is the transportation of the food. Thus the price of gasoline is making an impact on the current food price crisis. If we can start being more efficient with our driving habits, we can reduce some of this pressure on food prices (and do a whole bunch of other good things too).