NATO Review provides an 'at-a-glance' guide to how food prices could lead to increased unrest and threaten political stability.
In the last year, rice has risen by over 70 per cent. Wheat has more than doubled in cost, having a major knock-on effect on staples like bread. Soya, another major staple, is up by 87 per cent. And corn has risen by 31 per cent.
There is no single reason, but rather a series of interrelated factors. A non-exhaustive list of possible contributors includes:
There have already been some high profile riots over food prices in many countries, notably Haiti (which ended in several deaths) and the Ivory Coast (see the photostory for a fuller list).
The food prices have had an effect all over the world: by April 2008, there had been mass protests in more than 30 countries.
Wherever the world’s poorest are located – but especially those countries or regions which are net importers of food. Africa has been particularly hard hit, along with parts of Asia and Central and South America. By contrast, some exporting nations, such as Argentina, Canada and Australia, have actually seen the food situation improve their trade balances.
There are several other areas affected by these food prices which could impact on security, eg energy, trade and migration.
Trade restrictions have also had a security impact. In Sri Lanka, for example, some traders have hoarded their stock because they do not want to sell at the lower, official prices determined by the government. A special court has been set up to punish traders who sell above these prices – even if the traders may have bought their stock at higher prices before. This situation is already a consequence of another country – India – deciding to stop exporting non-basmati rice.
Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Programme, says that food markets should correct in about three to four years time, due to increased production and market corrections. However, before that, millions will continue to suffer from continuing price rises.