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How rising food prices are impacting the world

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"They have insurance," he says of crop growers. "The livestock guys – we're the ones that gotta feed these animals."

Across the American West, ranchers have been thinning their herds for months. The US cattle herd fell below 98 million head this summer, the lowest level since the early 1970s.

While expensive corn has hurt ranchers and poultry farmers, if they can just survive the next six months, beef and poultry prices should rise, easing the imbalance in their bank accounts. For US consumers, though, all price increases are onerous. The one consolation may be that the proportion of household income spent on food has fallen sharply over the past few decades, to below 15 percent.

But in other parts of the world, the fraction is more improper, with the working poor spending at least 50 percent of their income feeding their families.

* * *

Consider Guatemala, where half of the country's 14 million people live below the poverty line and many struggle to put food on their tables. Throughout history, from centuries past when Mayan cultures flourished on the Yucatán Peninsula until today, corn, ground into meal and made into tortillas, has been the staple.

"It's our most important food. You have tortillas with every meal," says María López, who walks a Guatemala City neighborhood daily, selling hot tortillas door to door.

Two years ago, Guatemalans could buy five tortillas for a quetzal (about 13 cents). Today, a quetzal only buys three tortillas, on average, and other food prices have been surging as well. The government estimates that it costs about 85 quetzales ($10.70) a day to feed a family of four, far more than the minimum daily wage of most people here.

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