Food shortages, governmental collapse

“Underneath the Egyptian Revolution” by Billy Wharton, on the Examiner.com:

So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being. – Franz Kafka

Hands grabbing bread in Egypt. Click image to see source.

Hidden beneath the spectacular street battles that aim to force Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak out of office is a trigger that exists in dozens of countries throughout the world – food.  Or, more specifically, the lack of it. 

While commentators focus on the corruption of the dictatorship, or the viral effects of the Tunisian moment or the something akin to an Arab political awakening, the inability of the Egyptian regime to insure a steady flow of food staples should be viewed as a critical factor driving this seemingly spontaneous movement for freedom.

Egypt is far from an isolated case when it comes to food shortages.  Since 2008, rising food prices have resulted in 40 mass riots throughout the globe and the United Nations reports that 37 countries currently face a food crisis.  World prices for basic food commodities such as corn, sugar and beef have all spiked in the last year resulting, in many regions, in sharp reductions in food intake.  The governments of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines all issued warnings in 2010 about impending food shortages.(The Guardian, October 26, 2010)

What makes Egypt special in regards to food shortages is the triple convergence of ecological devastation induced harvest reductions, government corruption and ineptitude and a resulting reliance on a global food market that is being inflated by global environmental degradation and capitalist speculation….”

Read the whole thing on The Examiner.com

And now, via Twilight Language blog:

“The link between global food shortages and the collapse of poorer world governments is certainly not new thinking. Lester R. Brown writing in Scientific American Magazine on April 22, 2009, entitled the article, “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?“” See excerpt below:

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization — By Lester R. Brown, originally from Scientific American, via Locust blog:

“One of the toughest things for people to do is to anticipate sudden change. Typically we project the future by extrapolating from trends in the past. Much of the time this approach works well. But sometimes it fails spectacularly, and people are simply blindsided by events such as today’s economic crisis.

For most of us, the idea that civilization itself could disintegrate probably seems preposterous. Who would not find it hard to think seriously about such a complete departure from what we expect of ordinary life? What evidence could make us heed a warning so dire—and how would we go about responding to it? We are so inured to a long list of highly unlikely catastrophes that we are virtually programmed to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand: Sure, our civilization might devolve into chaos—and Earth might collide with an asteroid, too!

For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. Yet I, too, have resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization.

I can no longer ignore that risk. Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy—most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures—forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible…..”

Read more on Locust blog.

Rising food prices may spur Arab unrest, warns World Bank — via Arabian Business.com

“….The soaring cost of basic food items was seen as a trigger factor in the political unrest sweeping the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. Zoellick said the rising prices may aggravate the situation.

“I’m concerned that higher food prices add to stress points and could add to the fragility that is already there anytime you have revolutions and transitions,” he told reporters at a press conference in Washington.

Wheat prices have almost doubled while the cost of maize increased 73 percent between June and January, said the bank. Sugar and edible oils have also gone up sharply.

In 2008, the bank warned 100 million people would be pushed into extreme poverty – which it defines as living on less than $1.25 a day – if food prices continued to rise.

Following the 2008 food crisis many Gulf states, which import vast amounts of food for their growing populations, looked to acquire agricultural land abroad in a bid to increase food security and damp inflation….”

Get the whole story on Arabian Business.com

More on world food supply shocks, via Salt Spring News.

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