NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

17 Feb. 2011

Food – a hunger for security?

The potential of high food prices to act as a trigger for social and political changes has been evident across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. Higher food prices, coupled with a financial downturn, have impacted hard on the region’s people. Those hit hardest are the poor, who spend a higher percentage of their money on food.

The World Food Programme’s representative in one of the countries which has seen protests, Yemen, recently stated: ‘There is an obvious link between high food prices and unrest.’

The 2008 food crisis was a warning of things to come. More recently, food prices rose by 15% in just the period October 2010 to January 2011, according to the World Bank’s Food Price Watch.

This time, the impacts have been felt more keenly in political and security circles. The President of the World Bank Bob Zoellick spelled out in February why this is important: ‘Food prices threaten millions of poor people around the world; now food security is a global security issue,’ he said.

People in NATO countries are also affected. Europe is the world's biggest food importer. By far the largest part of the EU’s budget is already dedicated to agriculture and food production.

Dealing with current - and future – increases in food prices is set to be a global problem. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that 70% more food will be needed globally by 2050. Part of the reason is that the world’s population is set to rise by around 2 billion people this century.

But population growth is just one factor. In the same period, changes in climate around the world could add further pressure to food production.

Severe droughts in China this year are already predicted to have an impact. Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, the world’s second most populous country, said in February that food security is becoming a major security issue in many developing countries.

Here NATO Review asks the experts about what the combined impact of less food security, higher populations and increased climate change could mean for security around the world. It also looks at how some of the worst effects could be avoided.

Last updated: 17-Feb-2011 14:50

Comment & analysis

Cooking for the planet 15 Feb. 2011 The further rise in the Earth's temperature - and how it materialises - will severely impact on food. NATO Review asks experts how food and water supplies will evolve and if current approaches are enough. 
Optimism - or realism? 15 Feb. 2011 Are there any realistic solutions to the climate/food threat? Is there enough time to avoid its worst consequences? And what are the possible answers being considered? 
Food security - the seed of solution is already here 15 Feb. 2011 Bjørn Lomborg argues that global warming’s effects on food scarcity can be addressed – and now. Furthermore, he paints a picture in which less people starve in the world, despite population growth. Here he sets out the action needed now. 
Uniforms are getting greener 15 Feb. 2011 Green issues are no longer the preserve of hippies and tree huggers. The military knows just how important they are. The BBC's environment correspondent, David Shukman, recounts how climate has become part of defence planning. 
NATO Review: Dying to eat 09 Feb. 2011 What could food shortages mean for security? How would they affect the role of the military? And which areas are most under threat? A look at how food, climate and security may overlap. 
NATO Review: Population growth - the defining challenge of the 21st Century 09 Feb. 2011 Could engineering hold the solutions to the growing storm of more people, increased climate change and greater food and water stress? 
NATO Review: NATO and energy security 09 Feb. 2011 There are many roads leading from energy to security. Michael Rühle outlines the reasons for NATO’s interest in energy security and what difference it could make.