Wednesday, February 2, 2011


As events unravel across North Africa - Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, and so on - there have been numerous articles published about rising food prices and their role in recent protests.  It's an extremely complicated subject, and far too complex for us to do a quick blog post here.  Until we're able to sift through more of the information for our own post, here's a few articles we came across that we thought would be helpful (note that some of these articles predate the recent Egyptian protests).

-"Food Prices Can't Just Be Swept Under the Table," (Jan 13 2011) Madeline Bunting from the Guardian's "Poverty Matters" blog, which gives a general summary about the factors driving up food prices;

-"Commodities: This Time is Different," (Jan 29 2011) Paul Krugman in his Conscience of a Liberal column, on food price increases through 2010:
Not much evidence of hoarding, as far as I can tell. So this is straightforward supply and demand. Demand may be up to some extent because of that emerging-market boom. But if you look at the FAO reports it becomes clear that the key thing for cereals prices is that production is down in advanced countries, largely owing to terrible weather. And yes, it’s likely that climate change has played a role.
-"Rising Food Prices Contribute To Unrest In Mideast," (Feb 1 2011) All Things Considered, NPR. During the segment, Abdolreza Abbassian, Senior Economist with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, is quoted as saying that "the reality is, that back in 2007 and 2008, food prices actually rose even higher when you look at just the most basic staple crops: corn, wheat and rice...[This] time around, there were actually pretty big reserves of those on hand and that has cushioned the price increases." However, if the year brings more drought and flooding, it will become "an alarming situation."

-"The Politics of Food: Hungry for Votes," from the Economist (Jan 27, 2011), which describes the shortcomings of the G20's Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme:
In November, 20 poor countries submitted their requests to GAFSP for projects worth $1 billion. Only three got anything. That was unsurprising. Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a think-tank, notes that GAFSP is “already gasping”. America has handed over only $67m of its promised $475m. Congress has whittled down the president’s budget request for a further $400m to $100m. An accompanying piece of legislation to help switch US-AID’s efforts from emergency aid to long-term investment seems to have been torpedoed. Two dozen aid agencies recently warned Mr Obama of a “strong risk” that GAFSP would cease to exist.

Other countries are reneging too. Less than one-third of the promised $20 billion for agriculture turns out to be new money. Much of that has not arrived. A big cause of food-price rises is trade bans by exporters. The G20 has asked the Russian government to study how to block these. But Russia is one of the chief culprits: Foxes Inc regulating hencoop security.
-"Food Riots: What Creates the Anger?" (Feb 1 2011) by Jessica Leeder for the Globe and Mail, on how food riots aren't always about the food alone:
Although they’re triggered by price spikes, food riots are not typically about food at all, [Evan Fraser, co-author of the book Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations] argues. While it’s true that people are propelled into the streets by having to pay higher prices for onions (India), stomach five-fold increases for chilies (Indonesia) and light buildings on fire over hikes for milk, sugar and flour (Algeria) – not all price hikes have set off riots throughout history. Underpinning the recent spate is a unique psychology – a complicated tangle of fear, insecurity, desperation and anger...

“People in Egypt are not hungry. In Cairo, the average calorie intake is 4,000 calories per day,” he said. “Egypt has more serious health problems linked to … excessive nutrient intake than inadequate,” [Robert Paarlberg, a food security expert at Wellesley College and Harvard University] said.

The phenomenon is not unique to Egypt. Deadly food-related protests broke out last fall in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, over high wheat prices. However, wheat makes up less than 10 per cent of the average calorie intake there. Wheat prices had only a slight impact on daily diets, but people were nonetheless moved to riot over them in the streets.
-"How Governments Are Reacting in the Face of Food Riots" (Feb 1 2011) by Paul Waldie for the Globe and Mail, on how the Suez Canal plays a factor:
One more variable is the Suez Canal. Wheat prices could also still go higher because Egypt, the world’s largest buyer of the grain, also controls the waterway, a vital shipping route for commodities that include agricultural goods and oil.

Maureen Fitzhenry, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Wheat Board, said that “the impact of this unrest on world grain markets will be limited if the flow of grains is maintained. However, if the Suez Canal is closed for any reasons,” she added, “it will have a negative impact on grain markets.”
(That's obviously just the tip of the iceberg in terms of food price/security articles.  If there's any of note you think are of value, leave a link in the comments.)

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