ShapeShapeauthorShapecrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShapeShape

Food Riots of the 21st Century

SOUTH AFRICA - The risks of food riots and malnutrition will surge in the next two years as the global supply of grain comes under more pressure than at any time in 50 years, according to one of the worlds leading agricultural researchers.

Recent pasta protests in Italy, tortilla rallies in Mexico and onion demonstrations in India are just the start of the social instability to come unless there is a fundamental shift to boost production of staple foods, warned Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The growing appetite of China and other fast-developing nations has combined with the expansion of biofuel programmes in the United States and Europe to transform the global food situation.

After decades of expanding crop yields and falling food prices, the past year has seen a sharp rise in the cost of wheat, rice, corn, soya and dairy products.

“Demand is running away. The world has been consuming more than it produces for five years now. Stocks of grain and of rice, wheat and maize are down at levels not seen since the early 1980s,” said Von Braun, whose organisation is the world’s largest alliance of agricultural researchers, economists and policy experts.

So far, crises have been averted because states have eaten into national stocks, but this could be set to change because China, in particular, has run down its supplies.

“Over the next 12 to 24 months we are in a fairly risky situation. Large consuming nations, particularly China, will feel pressed to enter international markets to bid up prices to unusual levels,” Von Braun warned ahead of a speech to the institute’s AGM in Beijing.

Thanks to its manufacturing prowess China has huge foreign exchange reserves and could buy the global food crop several times over. But its consumers are already feeling the cost of food inflation. According to the local media three shoppers died last month in a stampede at a supermarket in Chongqing that was offering cheap rapeseed oil. The threat of instability has prompted Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to make the fight against food price rises one of his government’s priorities. So far it seems a losing battle.

Economic growth - estimated at 11,5 per cent in the first nine months of the year - has made Chinese consumers wealthier, while urbanisation and globalisation has changed their diet. In October the government announced pork prices were up more than 50 per cent, vegetables 30 per cent and cooking oil 34 per cent compared with the year before.

The knock-on is felt across the world. In rich nations it means a few more cents for breakfast cereal in the short term and a slightly higher cost for toys, clothes and other Chinese goods. But for the world’s poorest communities the rises will have a potentially devastating effect.

Source: Mail & Guardian

Ellen Hardy

Learn more