Friday, August 22, 2008

Think outside the box: How to beat back rising food prices

Food prices are rising. From corn to rice, all of the basic food staples are increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food prices are going to be increasing around the 5 to 6 percent mark this year, marking it the highest increase in food prices since 1990.

Since June 2008, I have been looking to reduce the impact of these increases and have made some success in doing so through my own home garden. In the next few paragraphs, I'll attempt to you show you how I saved roughly $4,400/year by using 10sqm of unused land that otherwise would have been "grass" or a "lawn".

My point of view:

1. PRICES WILL CONTINUE TO GO UP. Food prices will continue to go up for geopolitical reasons, rise in oil (USA: 5% of world's population, but uses 26% of world's energy), increased demand as poverty decreases, reduction of farm land, utilization of farm resources for renewable energy initiatives, and the refusal for some cultures to change their main staples.

2. KNOW YOUR SITUATION. Vendors, clients, businesses, employers -- are all looking to cut costs yet the average Joe thinks their company should pay more (who doesn't want more money right?). For instance, a good chunk of workers across the world look for wage increases during an economic recession. Yet these are the exact times when employers are looking to save.

For instance, if you are paid $7/hour and a competitive company is paying $9/hour -- surely you would want to move over? But what if that $9/hour company is putting itself at risk? Does the extra money help if you can't trust it for stability? My point is: unless employers get increased revenues -- there is no way they can afford wage increases. Either find a way to help your company increase revenues (remember, it's not a bank), or stop dreaming of wage increases.

Put yourself in your employer's shoes, do you want to remain profitable to be able to pay for everyone or start hurting your bottom line and in the end leave everyone jobless? Increased costs without increased revenue equals doom. Now think differently: how do I help my company increase revenue so we can have fun things like bonuses and incentives?

3. MAKE LIFESTYLE CHANGES. The easiest way to save money and sometimes the hardest choices for some, is to adjust their lifestyles. Reduce unnecessary costs. My advice for folks that drink alcohol and smoke: that's the first that should go before you ever complain about not having money. That only shows irresponsibility of money vs. the lack of money.

4. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD. At first glance, people will probably say this is absurd. But more and more people are jumping "back to basics", where communities survived not because they knew how to buy food from McDonalds or from supermarkets but because of their ability to utilize their land for food. No, I'm not saying buy farm lands but utilize the soil that you currently have -- especially in urban areas! Food for thought:

  • According to The Peri-Urban Interface, nearly 50% of the world's population is located in urban areas.
  • According to a United Nations HABITAT study, called "Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture", roughly 40% to 60% of the income in some urban areas are spent on food alone. Now that's absurd!

If you can save 40% to 60% by growing your own food, why not do it? In June 2008, I started planting at the cost of roughly $19 USD worth of seeds and small plants -- planting corn, watermelon, tomatoes, eggplants, Chinese cabbage (pechay), bananas, Chinese kangkong, mung beans, etc.

Now I'm reaping the benefits, with my food costs dropping from $500/mo (household of eight), to roughly about $130/mo. Within the next few months, I should be able to have surpluses and be able to actually gain. All of this on roughly 10sqm of land. That's a savings of more than $44,400 in 10 years and if my plans of 0% cost on food happens, that brings the savings up to $60,000 in 10 years.

Let's start using the land that we are given and the rain that falls on us for free.

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