Food – a hunger for security?

  • Last updated: 17 Feb. 2011 14:50

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.

A farmer works on a drought-hit paddy field in the outskirts of Chongqing municipality in this March 24, 2009 file photo. La Nina-driven weather from South America to Australia and southern Asia will extend into early 2011, disrupting seasonal crop output and  supporting long bets on grains and soft commodities that have gained sharply since the phenomenon began in mid 2010. Picture taken March 24, 2009.  To match Analysis COMMODITIES/LA-NINA  REUTERS/Stringer/Files (CHINA - Tags: AGRICULTURE ENVIRONMENT BUSINESS) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

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.