Price hikes leaving people hungry from Jakarta to Memphis

The world's worsening food crisis has finally made the headlines and grim forecasts for the endemic problem are causing widespread panic. We asked our Observers in Cameroon, Indonesia, Haiti and the USA to tell us how they're affected by the crunch.


Indonesia: "A kilo of rice has gone from 3500 rupiah (€20 cents) to 4700 rupiah (€31 cents) since January"

Dian runs an outdoor restaurant in Jakarta.

In our warung [street restaurant] we sell nasi goreng [fruit rice] like everyone does. It's the national dish. Even though the cost of a kilo of rice has gone from 3500 rupiah (€20 cents) to 4700 rupiah (€31 cents) since January, we're trying not to raise the prices just yet, unlike the other warungs which are charging 1000 rupiah for their nasi goring. We're waiting because we're scared of losing clients. To compensate we cook more non-rice dishes like soup and meat skewers.

However, we won't hold out too long because the price of rice is far from the only in problem in Asia. Most Indonesian dishes contain ground pepper. The price has increased four-fold in two months so that it's now 40,000 rupiah [€2.70] per kilo. For us it's even more important than rice. And then you've got kerosene for cooking the food. Not only has the price per litre shot up from 3,000 rupiah [€20 cents] in January to 8,000 rupiah now, it's become almost impossible to get hold of any. Because of this, we've changed our kerosene fuelled cookers to gas ones. It's expensive, but easier to find. Last January we were making 40% profit. Now we're only making five. And obviously, nobody's had a raise."

Dian's restaurant

Cameroon: Government-fixed prices is not working for shop owners

Since protests against the high cost of living in February, when a hundred people died, the government decided to stop taxing certain basic foodstuffs (rice, flour and fish etc.). This measure made little difference to poor families, so the authorities then decided to try out a system of fixing prices.

Ibrahim is in charge of Mont Cameroon, a subsidised food produce market situated opposite the central market in Yaoundé.

We signed this draft-agreement with the trade minister, who fixes the prices. We follow the rules; using these set lower prices. But we won't be able to keep up with this after we've sold our current stocks, we don't make enough profit. When we get our next delivery; we'll have to increase the prices a bit."

According to one of our Observers in Yaoundé, Mohamadou Houmfa, the market traders - unhappy with the price controls put in place by the government - are on the point of striking.

Ibrahim's shop in Yaoundé

USA: "You have to choose between buying groceries and putting gas in your car"

Lynn is a freelance researcher from Memphis, Tennessee, USA. She earns around $300 - 400 (€200 - 260) per month. The global food crisis has caused spikes in prices for some foods in the US, notably rice and flour, but has not hit US consumers as hard as people in poorer countries. Lynn is feeling the pinch from another commodity: gasoline, the price of which has risen by more than 15% this year. Her blog.

I have cut back just about all I can until there's very little to cut back. I don't have cable or any TV service at all anymore. I don't carry a mobile phone service contract anymore, I have prepaid that I really only use mostly for emergencies and the occasional important necessary call. I can't cut out Internet service, no, because then I can't work. I don't, as a rule for around the house, buy soda anymore, don't even buy tea or juice - I drink water. (...) I eat one meal a day (...) Snacks - nope. Fruit - I'd love to have fruit around, at least bananas or something, but a lot of that's gotten too expensive to think about buying on a regular basis too. I drive a compact car. A COMPACT. And yet it's costing over $30 to fill up the tank from empty. Come on. Today was maybe one of the most telling days of all for me. I have a total of about $0.92 in cash to last me until the end of this month... with almost ten days to go.

My situation is worse than most people's but there are definitely people who are having to make choices between buying groceries or putting gas in their cars, or make other severe cutbacks and/or changes in order to deal with gas costs right now. I'm hearing of layoffs and inability to find jobs constantly. Anybody who has never really been able to save up money in the past has got to be struggling right now just under the crunch of the gasoline prices alone."