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Food Shortages

As political unrest has broken out in several Arab countries, political repression and the social media revolution have largely been credited for spurring the turmoil; but, another factor has been at play, people angry over rising food prices.
Food Shortages

Arab unrest

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Food Riots in Egypt
Food Riots in Egypt

Show Dates

Show 1109: Food Shortages

Air date: February 27, 2011

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon:  Well as political unrest has broken out in several Arab countries, political repression and the social media revolution have largely been credited for spurring the turmoil.  But another factor has been at play, people angry over rising food prices.  With more, here’s our Courtenay DeHoff.

Courtenay DeHoff:  While many people in our country are worried about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill a gnawing hunger.  The United Nations says the global food price index is at a record high, above where it stood during the last food crisis three years ago; and, tensions in the Middle East are rising.

[sounds from a riotous crowd]

Anger.

[sounds from a riotous crowd]

And deadly violence.

[sounds from a riotous crowd]

Have reached a boiling point in countries around the globe.

[sounds from a riotous crowd]

Because people are having a hard time, filling their stomachs.  A dramatic price hike in basic foodstuffs such as rice, bread, and flour, have sparked food riots across the world; and, it’s not over yet.

Neil Conklin:  I think food prices are going to go up.  As we look at the long-term, increasing demand on the planet as our population increases and as incomes in developing countries rise.

Courtenay:  Neil Conklin is part of an organization that educates people on food policies that are important to rural America.

Neil:  With the constraints that we have on our land and water resources, I think there are real questions about whether we’re gonna be able to, uh, able to keep up unless we have prices rising enough to stimulate the investment that we need in agriculture to produce what this planet needs.

[sounds from a riotous crowd]

Courtenay:  And many parts of the world definitely are in need.  After a young Tunisian college graduate set himself on fire after police seized his small fruit and vegetable stand for not having a license to sell, record high food prices were catapulted to the world’s attention.

Neil:  The publics’ understanding of food and production agriculture has changed; because it’s not just our eating habits that have changed.  Over that same period there have been more changes in farming, maybe not in the last ten thousand, but certainly in the last thousand years.

Courtenay:  Unemployment and rampant corruption among officials have been growing in many Arab countries, but extreme food prices have led to a change for the worse.  In Egypt balled bread is bread made of about 80% wheat flour and 20% domestically grown corn.  It’s so popular in Egypt that when the government tried to raise its subsidized price, full-blown riots broke out in the streets.  And Conklin says, in large part the food crisis reflects the simple law of supply and demand.

Neil:  We currently have very high commodity prices pushed up by falling exchange, by declining exchange rates and, and growing demand for our products in, in developing countries.  But in the longer term, I think there’s a real question about whether or not science and technology are gonna be able to keep up with the growing demand for food and agricultural products on this planet, as we have tighter and tighter constraints on our land and water resources.

Courtenay:  Well even though headlines are coming out of a few countries, the issue is continuing to grow everywhere.  The price of food has remained relatively tame in this country, because when we buy a box of cereal, or even a Starbucks coffee, we are paying mostly for the packaging and attractive store ambiance; so, we often don’t even notice the underlying commodity price the way poorer people in other countries do when they buy a simple staple food, like rice.  But, although slow, we’re going to feel the crunch.  A 2% to 3% increase in grocery prices is expected this year.