The price of bread

As food prices rise all over the world and the UN goes into damage control mode trying to downplay fears of a renewed food crisis, Mozambique burns. In Maputo two weeks ago, 13 people, including some children were killed in bread riots that followed a 30% spike in the cost of bread, as well as soaring costs for basics such as energy and water.

Raj Patel wrote a great piece in the Guardian exploring how the root of such protests is in the inequities of the global economy.

But in Mozambique you don’t have to go far to understand what’s at the heart of people taking to the streets about the price of food and necessities. Three quarters of the average household income goes toward food, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room when prices go up.  (The government reversed the price hike last week, announcing it will use subsidies to cover costs.)

Children are invariably the most vulnerable. ( UNICEF estimates nearly 60% of children in Mozambique live below the poverty line.) To try to take some of the pressure off, the World Food Program offers food for education programs to some 280,000 school kids. School lunches—often a fortified porridge or a simple plate of rice and beans—as well as take-home rations for girls and orphans means kids and their families have incentive to stay in school. It also means that with full bellies they’re better able to concentrate on learning.

Mozambique is considered one of Africa’s great post-conflict success stories—building peace, democracy and economic development—and the Ministry of Education and Culture is working with the WFP to take over responsibility for school meals. But it’s not hard to imagine that rising food prices, the fragility of the international food market, and the pressure this puts on federal coffers could delay its implementation.

Let’s hope the government has the foresight to see that any investment in school meals is also an investment in the country’s future.

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