The Geopolitics of Food

admin January 12th, 2011

Nations and the world’s political stability live and die on dinner.  We know this to be true – the Soviet Union collapse, for example, was directly tied to issues of food security.  As  long as the SU was able to purchase wheat on world markets with its natural resource sale profits, it could keep going.  When prices tanked and the Soviet Union was cast back on its own resources, its own wheat harvest would not support the people, and the people would not support the government.  This has been true over and over again in history – that the basic legitimacy of a government often depends on the food security of its people, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this rule has been overturned.

That’s why the Tunisian food riots should be seen as a harbinger of a larger issue - the return of the food crisis:

“We are entering a danger territory,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, chief economist at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, on 5 January. The price of a basket of cereals, oils, dairy, meat and sugar that reflects global consumption patterns has risen steadily for six months, and has just broken through the previous record, set during the last food panic in June, 2008.

“There is still room for prices to go up much higher,” Abbassian added, “if for example the dry conditions in Argentina become a drought, and if we start having problems with winter kill in the northern hemisphere for the wheat crops.” After the loss of at least a third of the Russian and Ukrainina grain crop in last summer’s heat wave and the devastating floods in Australia and Pakistan, there’s no margin for error left .

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.

Hunger in South Asia, North Africa or Central America doesn’t end there – it reverbates through the world picture, shaping how other nations use their resources.  There can be no world stability in an re-emerging food crisis.  I’ve written more about the complex causes of the food crisis here and of course in _A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil_ - but the fact remains we should be prepared to see the world landscape changing, perhaps more deeply and rapidly than during the 2008 food crisis, since we are seeing that this is not merely one event, but the repetition of a cycle.

Sharon

2 Responses to “The Geopolitics of Food”

  1. dixiebelle says:

    Thank you. I blogged today about how the floods in Queensland (I am in Australia) are making me feel about food security & linked to this post:
    http://eatatdixiebelles.blogspot.com/2011/01/on-my-mind-food-security.html

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