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Food Wars

In: Social Issues

Submitted By boylondon
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Pages 3
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In 2006–08, food shortages became a global reality, with the prices of commodities spiraling beyond the reach of vast numbers of people. International agencies were caught flatfooted, with the World Food Program warning that its rapidly diminishing food stocks might not be able to deal with the emergency.

Owing to surging prices of rice, wheat, and vegetable oils, the food import bills of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) climbed by 37 percent from 2007 to 2008, from $17.9 million to $24.6 million, after having risen by 30 percent in 2006. By the end of 2008, the United Nations reported, “the annual food import basket in LDCs cost more than three times that of 2000, not because of the increased volume of food imports, but as the result of rising food prices.”1 These tumultuous developments added 75 million people to the ranks of the hungry and drove an estimated 125 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty.2

Alarmed by massive global demand, countries like China and Argentina resorted to imposing taxes or quotas on their rice and wheat exports to avert local shortages. Rice exports were simply banned in Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. South-South solidarity, fragile in the best of times, crumbled, becoming part of the collateral damage of the crisis.

Global Crisis, Global Protests

For some countries, the food crisis was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Some thirty countries experienced violent popular actions against rising prices in 2007 and 2008, among them Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Mauretania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Across the continents, people came out in the thousands against uncontrolled rises in the price of staple goods that their countries had to import owing to insufficient production. Scores of people died in these demonstrations of popular anger.

The most dramatic developments transpired in Haiti. With 80 percent of the population subsisting on less than two dollars a day, the doubling of the price of rice in the first four months of 2008 led to “hunger so tortuous that it felt like [people’s] stomachs were being eaten away by bleach or battery acid,” according to one account.3 Widespread rioting broke out that only ended when the Senate fired the prime minister. In their intensity, the Haiti riots reminded observers of the anti-International Monetary Fund (IMF) riots in Venezuela—the so-called Caracazo—almost two decades ago, which reshaped the contours of that country’s politics.

The Perfect Storm?

The international press and academics proclaimed the end of the era of cheap food, and they traced the cause to a variety of causes: the failure of the poorer countries to develop their agricultural sectors, strains on the international food supply created by dietary changes in China and India’s expanding middle classes who were eating more meat, speculation in commodity futures, the conversion of farmland into urban real estate, climate change, and the diversion of corn and sugarcane from food production to the production of agrofuels to replace oil.

The United Nations’ World Economic Situation and Prospects spoke about the crisis being the product of a “perfect storm,” or an explosive conjunction of different developments. Speculative movements that brought about the global financial crisis that broke out in the summer of 2007 were implicated in the food crisis. According to the United Nations, the impact on food prices of speculation by financial investors in commodities and commodity futures markets “has been considerable.” It could be argued, said the report,…...

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