Brazilian UN peacekeepers control a crowd during demonstrations against the cost of food and fuel, April 8.(Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images)
Brazilian UN peacekeepers control a crowd during demonstrations against the cost of food and fuel, April 8.
(Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images)

Soaring Food Prices Spark Unrest

April 11, 2008  •  From

The world food crisis is here now, and it may just be a matter of time before the shock wave lands on the doorstep of Western nations. A number of developing countries have already experienced violent protests and riots with dozens of people killed. Only military intervention has prevented complete anarchy in some areas as people strive to soothe their hunger pangs. The United Nations estimates that almost all of its efforts in certain countries to ease poverty have been erased due to an 83 percent increase in the price of food.

The Independent reports:

Some of the world’s most populous countries are now increasingly vulnerable to higher food prices, with the cost of rice now rising in line with that of other grains such as wheat and corn. As food insecurity spreads, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (fao) is warning of tense times ahead because the shortages of basic commodities and high prices are expected to continue. There are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks in the world and grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s.

One or two bad harvests could erase that margin quickly, and the civil unrest could easily spread beyond the borders of developing nations.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the World Bank, whose main task is to fight poverty in developing countries, estimated “that 33 countries around the world face potential conflict and social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices.” In order to combat the growing crisis, the UN has called for a half-million-dollar influx from developed nations.

Rocketing prices and restricted volumes of food are causing some nations to become more possessive of their own crops; India, Cambodia, China and Pakistan, for example, have already put major restriction on exports of basic foodstuffs.

A list of countries facing civil unrest, and sometimes violent riots because of rising food prices:

  • Egypt – Two days of riots, resulting in one death, over escalating food prices.
  • Mexico – The rising price of tortillas has caused protests in the nation’s capital.
  • Haiti – At least five people have died in protests.
  • Bolivia – Ceased exporting soy oil to neighboring Chile in an effort to hoard its food.
  • Ivory Coast – Demonstrators were broken up with tear gas; one was killed.
  • Burkina Faso – 180 people were arrested after price protests turned violent.
  • Cameroon – Protests calling for government action in reducing food prices were violently repressed, killing 40.
  • Senegal – The prices of powdered milk and rice rose 50 percent and 30 percent respectively in a few months, leading to riots.
  • Mauritania – Protesters gather against high fuel and food costs.
  • Mozambique – Hundreds have demonstrated.
  • Yemen – The average family spends 25 percent of its money on bread.
  • Uzbekistan – Rioting due to the cost of rice.
  • Bangladesh – “Soaring food prices have become a serious threat for the survival of the present caretaker government. … There could now be serious discontent, violence and food riots due to the soaring food price spikes,” said one official.
  • Indonesia – With prices of staples rising more than 30 percent, one expert said, “I see nothing but social unrest.”
  • Philippines – Armed soldiers oversee the distribution of rice.

So far the impact of food shortages and the mounting cost of various foods on Western industrialized countries has, for the most part, been confined to price increases at the grocery store. But as we consider the growing global demand for food and the tension surrounding mankind’s most critical commodity, surely we can begin to see how little it would take for food-related crises to erupt on the streets of New York City, or London, or Sydney.

The reality few like to talk about is that it cannot be too long before the unrest and riots we see in Third World states overflows into First World countries. To see this more clearly, read “Sleepwalking Into a Food Nightmare.”