In the West, most have looked at the recent food crisis as a troubling, but distant, problem. It has not seemingly crossed our comfortable borders - except for a few raised eyebrows when we see the weekly cost of food shopping. But that semi-complacence is ill placed for three reasons.
First, members of the older generations will recall that food scarcity has been a problem in the West within living memory. In the great depression of the 1930s in the US, shanty towns dubbed Hoovervilles (after the President of the day, Herbert Hoover) could be found in great American cities from New York to Seattle. They were populated by poor people with no money and little food. The next President, who took on these problems, was well aware that food scarcity posed a security danger. ‘People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made,’ said Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Second, although there are no Hoovervilles in today’s West, there is an increasingly rapid growth of the urban poor. These are the people worst hit by growing food prices, in what has been called ‘unseen hunger’. They see the food on the shelves of shops – and see the prices are out of reach. And these people, who number tens if not hundreds of millions, are likely to react sooner rather than later.
Third and finally, there is a more indirect threat. Look at Afghanistan. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, requested extra food aid already six months ago and has an insurgency which is well placed to take advantage of food scarcity discontent. Sources in Afghanistan have already highlighted the danger of disaffected young men turning to radical solutions. This would have an effect on the West – on our soldiers in the short term and on our own security in the medium and long term.
Food is not just a humanitarian issue which deserves sympathy. It is also a security issue which requires action.