Rising Food Prices Destabilizing Dozens of CountriesMarch 12, 2008 By Sonia Schmanski
Rising prices for staple crops like rice, wheat, and corn—driven by growing demand, poor harvests in some regions, the high price of oil, and the conversion of many crops to biofuel—have spurred recent protests in Mexico, Morocco, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal, where people are becoming unable to afford to feed themselves and their families. Last week, the European Union announced its largest food aid package ever, dedicating $243 million to Africa, Asia, and the
Middle East. Earlier this week, the World Bank announced that it will nearly double its loans to Africa this year, partially to help countries cope with rising food prices.
Last month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that skyrocketing food prices have caused 36 countries to need external food assistance, and noted that many of these countries have seen their food shortage difficulties exacerbated by extreme weather or violent conflict. Earlier this month, the FAO released a report showing that climate change will likely diminish agricultural output in the Middle East and North Africa. (Visit the FAO’s World Food Situation Portal for more valuable data and reports on food scarcity.)
Some developing countries have found it more economical to import food than produce their own, which has simultaneously decreased global food supply and increased demand. In addition, when developing countries like China and India do achieve greater prosperity, this generally leads to higher consumption of meat and dairy products, which require more grain—and eight times more land—to produce than vegetables and staples.
Experts and leaders agree that boosting agricultural production should be a top international priority. “It is clear,” said John Beddington, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, “that science and research to increase the efficiency of agricultural production per unit of land is critical.” In addition, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently suggested that a “Green Revolution” in Africa could help increase efficiency and food security. (Read more on prospects for a Green Revolution in Africa here.)
Speaking last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, World Bank President Robert Zoellick called hunger and malnutrition “the forgotten Millennium Development Goal” and argued that “increased food prices and their threat—not only to people but also to political stability—have made it a matter of urgency to draw the attention it needs.”