3. Food Riots

Editor’s note. Welcome to this new department of World Nutrition. It carries short communications designed to add new information to WN commentaries and other contributions. Updates will often be by the authors of contributions but are invited from all readers. Unlike letters, updates can be to contributions published at any time. Please address contributions for publication to wn.updates@gmail.com. Usual length for main text of updates is between 100 and 750 words. Any references should usually be limited to up to 10. Updates are edited for length and
style, may also be developed, and once edited are sent to the author for approval.

Claudio Schuftan writes from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Food riots remain in the news, as I report here. Food insecurity causes hunger. It also is a cause of unrest, riots and wars. This is what I pointed out in my WN commentary of June 2011 (1), as did an accompanying editorial (2), with the French revolution (depicted above) and the current North African uprisings as examples. Food insecurity of the type caused by incompetent and/or corrupt governance, greedy and rapacious hoarders of supplies, foreign distortion or appropriation of local food systems, or all of the above, are obviously not acts of nature. Later Association home page stories (3-5) have pointed out that insecurity and poverty is being made worse by food being the plaything of trans-national commodity traders and speculators.

Updated information and commentary was carried by a Guardian report last month. Based on recent events, the report predicted that food rioting will become a global norm (6). Extracts follow. ‘We now know that the fundamental triggers for the Arab spring were unprecedented food price rises. The first sign things were unravelling hit in 2008, when a global rice shortage coincided with dramatic increases in staple food prices, triggering food riots across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. A month before the fall of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported record high food prices for dairy , meat, sugar and cereals…’

February 2013. Food riots in Argentina (left) and Algeria (right). All over the world, food-insecure populations are becoming more desperate and more angry.
‘The global industrial food system is increasingly unsustainable… Droughts exacerbated by global warming in key food-basket regions have already led to a 10-20% drop in rice yields over the past decade. Last year, four-fifths of the US experienced a heat-wave and there were prolonged droughts in Russia and Africa.
‘But climate is not the only problem. Industrial farming methods are breaching the biophysical limits of the soil. World agricultural land productivity between 1990 and 2007 was 1.2% a year, nearly half compared with 1950-90 levels of 2.1%…. WHAT DO THESE PERCENTAGES MEAN? INCRESES OF PRODUCTION PER HECTARE PER YEAR? High oil prices will continue to debilitate the global economy, particularly in Europe – but they will also continue to feed into the oil-dependent industrial food system. Currently, every major point in industrial food production is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
Then, I think, the Guardian writer comes to the key point. ‘ To make matters worse, predatory speculation on food and other commodities by banks drives prices higher, increasing profits at the expense of millions of the world’s poor. In the context of economies wracked by debt, this creates a perfect storm of problems which will guarantee high prices – eventually triggering civil unrest – for the foreseeable future. The link between intensifying inequality, debt, climate change, fossil fuel dependency and the global food crisis is now undeniable. As population and industrial growth continue, the food crisis will only get worse’.

January 2013. Zambia president Michael Sata, in trouble after bread price rises, says that founding president Kenneth Kaunda was overthrown after food riots.
The question this update begs for is not different from what I have asked before in several of my columns: Where does this put us as WPHNA members? Do we tinker with or solve nutrition problems at the root of malnutrition?
1 Schuftan C. Food price crises: ‘Free markets’ cause inequity and hunger. [Commentary] World Nutrition, June 2011, 2, 6: 254-270. Access pdf here
2 Anon. The shape of wars to come. [Editorial] World Nutrition, June 2011, 2, 6:
247-253. Access pdf here.
3 Anon. Africa, Sahel crisis. Africa’s pastoralists being left to die? World Public
Health Nutrition Association home page, August 2011. Access pdf here.
4 Anon. UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Oxfam. Is the war on world hunger being lost? World Public Health Nutrition Association home page, November 2012.
Access pdf here.
5 Anon. Climate change. Food security, prices. Heatwaves are burning food crops
World Public Health Nutrition Association home page, February 2013. Access
pdf here.
6 Ahmed N. Why food riots are likely to become the new normal. The Guardian, March 2013.

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