Food Riots

April 11, 2008

Did you know that around the world today a billion people are facing food shortages?  That average food prices have risen 40% across the world in less than a year, and as much as 300% in some places?  That a top UN official has warned that the crisis could cause worldwide turmoil and global political instability? That this is already happening- that in the last few weeks there have been riots over food in Haiti (4 people dead), Ivory Coast, Cameroon (40 people dead), Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal,  Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia, Jordan and Indonesia?

I try and follow the news as much as a busy mum and student can, and as a Development Studies student have been aware of the issues for some time- and I still missed just how immanent this crisis is.  This may be because despite the fact that some have been warning for years of the potential for a humanitarian and environmental crisis (for example this article from George Monbiot in 2004), the mainline media has largely ignored to signs.  Until now.  When the world is at crisis point and it may be too late to prevent millions of deaths.

Benjamin posted on this issue on Justice and Compassion a few days ago, linking to an article by Paul Krugman in the NY Times.  He suggested that-

The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.

We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.

I don’t disagree, but I don’t think this is enough.  This is what I commented-

I’m actually not sure that Krugman’s suggestions as to what should be done are hugely helpful either. Food aid has been linked with all kinds of ongoing problems- including undermining local markets, creating desire for imported grains over local staples and generally creating dependency.

He is right about about biofuels. however. They are a mistake. But just pushing back won’t help- we don’t need to continue our love affair with oil. I think we in the west needs to seriously reduce our dependence on fuel.

The problem is most Westerners don’t know or don’t care. I guess they think science or politicians or somebody else is going to come up with an answer, and we can just keep consuming the way we have been. For the moment the food crisis is mostly impacting on the poor in developing countries, and as unjust as it is, I don’t think the West will make significant changes until it starts to impact on our lifestyles significantly. I just hope that isn’t too late.

Change starts at home though. I have been thinking about going vegetarian for a long time… this may just be the motivation I need.

This may be a contradiction in a sense (food aid and pushing back on biofuels is not enough but my personal change is?), and I know it’s a drop in the bucket but I’m serious about the vegetarian thing. I probably won’t be 100% vege (my husband is not keen on the idea, and I’ve no aversion to the occasional NZ grass-fed/ organic/ free range meat meal) but I can’t ignore the fact that it takes far more land and resources to produce meat than grains, that livestock farming is incredibly environmentally degrading, and that I just feel selfish when so many are hungry and I have an excess of food on my plate.

Now you know about the crisis- what are you going to do?