News: After "War on Terror" and "War for Oil" comes "War for Food"?

food riots in Argentina

In the past months, I have been posting regularly about the global food crisis:
- Oil, Biofuel, World Hunger and Crimes Against Humanity.
- The Global Food Crisis: A Perfect Storm
- The Food Crisis: A Global Overview

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know I work for a humanitarian agency, so automatically my view of news articles is biased: scanning news bulletins I am rather sensitive to possible lurking crisis, be it armed conflicts, natural disasters or plain economic issues that could cause humanitarian problems. Plus of course, this is our job, this is what we do for a living: trying to spot, mitigate and react to humanitarian crisis in the making or unfolding.

On top of this, working for a food aid agency, the issue of raising food prices, the dilemma of biofuel production versus food production, changing weather patterns decreasing the food production are automatically issues which catch my eyes faster.

So I have been asking myself the question: "Is the global food crisis really that big an issue, or is it blown out of proportion by the media, amplified by my built-in sensitivity to food aid issues?".

Over the past weeks, I have been scanning the media rigorously. A few months ago, I set up a Pageflakes newsfeed tool which takes RSS feeds from about 100 news sources: Western and non-Western media, citizen journalism and social bookmarking sites. My Pageflakes tool gives me, in three screens, at a glance, an overview of ten news posts per news site, resulting in about 1,000 article headlines which are automatically updated as new headlines are released.
Scanning those articles, I can state objectively: the "food crisis" issue has been popping up more regularly, and it is not part of my imagination.

Refugees sifting through the sand looking for spills after a food distributionThe worrying factor is also a trend I have seen: Starting from "early warning" signs from humanitarian agencies, more and more reports come up about food riots in different countries, to -and that is what is really worrying me- articles that predict the potential global food supply shortages or inaccessibility of food (due to the sharply inflated prices), might lead governments to act in a drastic way.
Government steps being taken are to close their borders for food exports, containing food prices by extensive subsidies, or cancelling these due to the long term unsustainability, and bilateral agreements between countries to 'ensure a secure food supply'... Worrying. Reminds me of the same measures countries take to secure the supply of oil resources.

Now the apotheose of it all, and what causes me nightmares is the more frequent recurring link being made between food shortages (and all the related issues like global warming decreasing food production, biofuel consuming food, etc..), security and armed conflicts. And it not merely in titles like "Food Fights", but also in contents. Some examples:
  • "[...] farmers [in Sudan] continue to expand. Their expansion is arguably the real root cause of the current conflict [in Darfur]" (Article: Climate change is not an excuse for genocide.)
  • "The long-term consequences of neglecting environmental deterioration, water shortages, and increased competition over scarce resources will lead to greater conflict and instability. Reducing the risk of food-related conflict will require a comprehensive plan that targets the environment and ensures an equitable distribution of resources." (Article: Rising food prices threaten global security. )
  • "Rising food prices could spark worldwide unrest and threaten political stability, the UN's top humanitarian official warned yesterday after two days of rioting in Egypt over the doubling of prices of basic foods in a year and protests in other parts of the world." (Article: Food price rises threaten global security)
  • "Resource based conflicts are not new: they are literally as old as the hills. But in climate change we have a new and potentially disastrous dynamic." (Article: Climate change and security)
  • "If one country after the other adopts a 'starve-your-neighbor' policy, then eventually you trade smaller shares of total world production of agricultural products, and that in turn makes the prices more volatile" (Article: Tensions rise as world faces short rations)
  • "The headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world." (Article: How Hunger Could Topple Regimes)
  • "Governments are racing to strike secretive barter and bilateral agreements with food-exporting countries to secure scarce supplies as the price of agricultural commodities jump to record highs." (Article: Nations make secret deals over grain)
  • "What is emerging in the crisis over food prices is a tumultuous manifestation of a breakdown of the global capitalist order." (Article: Amid mounting food crisis, governments fear revolution of the hungry)

And then you might think I am going completely nutter to quote Nostradamus: "Famine and fighting will set in. Countries will fight with each other over surplus food: India and China will march to seize the corn and wheat fields of Russia and eastern Europe."

So tell me: am I a doomsday preacher or are we really heading for a period of armed conflicts, not as part of the "War on Terror", or the "War for Oil", but a "War for Food"?

Update April 23 2008:
- "The World Bank now believes that some 33 countries are in danger of being destabilised by food price inflation" (Article)
- "Climate change could cause global conflicts as large as the two world wars but lasting for centuries unless the problem is controlled, a leading defence think tank has warned." (Article)

Pictures courtesy Daniel Garcia (AFP-Getty Images) and WFP


Anonymous,  12 April, 2008 14:24  

I live in 'farm country', and I know all too well how disconnected our aristocracy is from the reality that most of the world endures.

In the last ten years 'green-mania' has managed to make Nuclear Reactors look environmentally friendly, and family farmers appear to be heartless. Few of these lemmings realize that the meat they eat is feed the same agri-product that they want to distill for their SUV's, CORN!

Someone has deliberately invented a new enemy for America, HUNGRY PEOPLE!

p.s No farmer has ever been able to set a price for his product, like OPEC sets for theirs with production goals/limits.

Nomadic Matt 12 April, 2008 17:44  

Biofuels are not a good can't substitute fuel for food. Biofules are good in theory but not at the cost of substituting them for food and clearing rainforests to make soy beans.

I like your site. If you get a chance, come over and check out mine.


Andrew Holden 12 April, 2008 20:04  

This is what the Nobel Peace Prize has been talking about the last decade.

Regardless of how and why the climate is changing - it has had an impact on resources and forced people to move to ever crowded cities.

Future conflicts will undoubtedly be over access to water, food and energy. And it will be the poor that pay the heaviest price! The irony, the sad irony.

I silently thank God every day for living in my insulated, rich Northern European country...

Anonymous,  13 April, 2008 19:20  


Nothing intellectual only to say that I cherish your postings and help me to keep abreast with the main issues I need to keep up with as an ex food aid humanitarian aid workder recycled momentarily into a mother....

Long live your blog!!!

Anders 27 October, 2009 09:56  

Biofuels are not a good can't substitute fuel for food. Biofules are good in theory but not at the cost of substituting them for food and clearing rainforests to make soy beans.

Anonymous,  27 October, 2009 17:28  

Actually, Anders, biofuels can be made from algae... it does not even require land to be cleared! And it hardly takes away any food from any animal or human. It can be farmed in tanks, on land and in the sea.

Kevin 02 February, 2010 21:58  

Great post and links!

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