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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

 
World Food Crisis Update

by dday

Last week I tried to call some attention to the looming world food crisis that is resulting from soaring prices on staples like rice and wheat. This week we've seen a continuation of that alarm as the crisis has spread.

Rice climbed to a record for a fourth day as the Philippines, the biggest importer, announced plans to buy 1 million tons and some of the world's largest exporters cut sales to ensure they can feed their own people.

Rice, the staple food for half the world, rose as much as 2.9 percent to $21.60 per 100 pounds in Chicago, before paring gains. The price has doubled in the past year. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo announced two rice tenders today and pledged to crack down on hoarding. Anyone found guilty of "stealing rice from the people'' will be jailed, she said.

"We're in for a tough time,'' Roland Jansen, chief executive officer of Pfaffikon, Switzerland-based Mother Earth Investments AG, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television from Zurich today. Unless prices decline, "you will have huge problems of daily nutrition for half the planet.'' Mother Earth holds about 4 percent of its $100 million funds in the grain.


This is basically a preview of the resource wars that will result if we continue to ignore the disastrous effects of climate change. Wealthy or resource-rich nations will simply pull their goods from the world market and retrench to benefit their own citizens, and as a result resource-poor nations will have little recourse. When you see wheat harvests becoming a more prized commodity than heroin harvests in Afghanistan, you know that there's a major problem out there. The impact on global security is great, as nations without access to adequate food supplies will create civil unrest and perhaps even the toppling of many regimes. And it should be of particular concern where in the world these sparks of violence and rioting would occur. Already we're seeing incidents in places like Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Cameroon (40 died in riots in February), Uzbekistan, Yemen and Indonesia. But consider that nearly half of the 160 million in Pakistan are "food insecure" and risk malnutrition and starvation from rising prices. We've seen that grinding poverty can be a magnet for extremism and fundamentalism. This is a national security crisis as well as a moral one.

Another example of geopolitical concerns of world hunger is in Zimbabwe, a country with 10,000% inflation and almost totally reliant on world food aid. In the midst of a political crisis where longtime dictator Robert Mugabe has apparently lost national elections but won't give up his position, violence has spread, in particular with respect to seizing farms.

Militant ruling party supporters invaded white-owned farms Monday, a day after President Robert Mugabe urged Zimbabweans to defend seized land, fanning fears he would stage a violent crackdown to retain power [...]

Invasions that began Sunday worsened with intruders entering at least 23 farms in southern Masvingo province and northern Centenary, said Trevor Gifford, president of the Commercial Farmers Union.

“In Masvingo where the police have been very cooperative, every time they remove invaders, within five, six hours they’re reinvading,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s very apparent that this is being coordinated from higher up the chain of command.”

Workers were being rounded up on the farms and forced to chant anthems in support of the ruling party, he said, and many of the farm owners had fled out of concern about their safety.

“The farmers are being told that everything on the farm is the property of those invading,” he said.


The farms are the chokepoint to maintain power in Zimbabwe. Before the election there were reports of needing a membership card from the ruling party to receive food aid. Seizing the farms is a continuation of that process. And so the food crisis sustains a brutal dictatorship.

African heads of state are meeting about Zimbabwe right now. But before long, they're going to have their own problems resulting from hunger. This is perhaps the biggest threat to global security we've seen in quite a while.


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