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The Future of Food Riots

Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams
If all the food in the world were shared out evenly, there would be enough to go around. That has been true for centuries now: if food was scarce, the problem was that it wasn’t in the right place, but there was no global shortage. However, that will not be true much longer.

The food riots began in Algeria more than a week ago, and they are going to spread. During the last global food shortage, in 2008, there was serious rioting in Mexico, Indonesia, and Egypt. We may expect to see that again this time, only bigger and more widespread.

Most people in these countries live in a cash economy, and a large proportion live in cities. They buy their food, they don’t grow it. That makes them very vulnerable, because they have to eat almost as much as people in rich countries do, but their incomes are much lower.

The poor, urban multitudes in these countries (including China and India) spend up to half of their entire income on food, compared to only about ten percent in the rich countries. When food prices soar, these people quickly find that they simply lack the money to go on feeding themselves and their children properly – and food prices now are at an all-time high.

… It was Russia and India banning grain exports in order to keep domestic prices down that set the food prices on the international market soaring. Most countries cannot insulate themselves from this global price rise, because they depend on imports for a lot of domestic consumption. But that means that a lot of their population cannot buy enough food for their families, so they go hungry. Then they get angry, and the riots start.

Is this food emergency a result of global warming? Maybe, but all these droughts, heat waves and floods could also just be a run of really bad luck. What is nearly certain is that the warming will continue, and that in the future there will be many more weather disasters due to climate change. Food production is going to take a big hit.
(10 January 2011)

Beyond the Eternal Food Fight

Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth (blog), New York Times
Almost every time global prices surge and the media and public reach out to analysts for meaning, a decades-long food fight resumes.

The latest price surge is clearcut, bringing food costs up to or past peaks reached in 2008. With populations and appetites growing, with climate changing, Is this the edge of the cliff or just another bump in a long, climbing road?

The combatants:

– Experts who foresee calamity as fast-rising demand for food (and everything else) strains farmers’ capacity to keep up, while pulses of drought, heat or flooding, conflict, speculation or disruptive policies (the biofuel boom) cause ripples and occasional rogue waves in prices.

– Experts who repeatedly, and less sexily, note that humanity, on the whole, has always overcome shortages and found ways to produce ever more food even as mouths multiply and rising incomes move families up the food chain from grains to meats and dairy. They’re mostly not saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but they’re definitely not urging listeners to buy food insurance, as Glenn Beck’s show periodically does, or to gird for the collapse of modern civilization, as resource pessimists have long intoned. (That last note is primarily for those who only tend to see alarmism at one end of the spectrum.)
Wheat harvest in IndiaRuth Fremson/The New York Times Water shortages have put the wheat harvest in northwest India at risk.

Given the new burst of concern over volatile and rising global food prices from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and various aid and environmental campaigners, late last week I sent some questions to a broad array of scholars and analysts focused on global resources and demands.
(10 January 2011)

At least 14 dead in Tunisian riots over rising food prices

Reuters via Haaretz (Israel)
The latest incidents are the deadliest in a wave of unrest which has lasted nearly a month.

Fourteen civilians have been killed in clashes with Tunisian police, official media and the government said, in the worst violence in the country for decades.

The latest incidents, which took place in three towns and were reported on Sunday, were the deadliest in a wave of unrest which has lasted nearly a month.

… Unrest in the past few days in neighbouring Algeria over unemployment and food prices has killed two people and injured hundreds, officials said.
(10 January 2011)

Latest Food Crisis Brewing for Months

Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service
The United Nations, which is trying to reach out to nearly a billion undernourished people, some living in perpetual hunger, is anticipating another food crisis later this year. And the signs of impending trouble have been there for some time.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned last week that world market prices for rice, wheat, sugar, barley and meat will remain high or register significant rises in 2011 – perhaps replicating the crisis of 2007-2008.

Rob Vos, director of development policy and analysis at the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told IPS that higher food prices are already affecting many developing countries.

He said countries like India and a number of other East and South Asian countries are facing double-digit inflation, mainly caused by higher food prices – alongside higher energy prices.

In Bolivia, the higher prices for food in world markets recently forced the government to reduce consumer subsidies as these were running up the fiscal deficit too high.

The short-term implications are not only that the poor are especially heavily affected – and that more people could be pushed into poverty – but also that it will hamper the recovery in the countries facing higher inflation
(11 January 2011)