A New Food Crisis?
By: Rami Zurayk
Published Sunday, July 29, 2012
In 2007, the Bush administration decided to turn vast areas of corn-producing land to biofuel (ethanol) rather than food for humans and animals. This move coincided with a fall in grain harvests in some exporting countries, such as Australia, as a result of several years of drought. Demand rose for basic foodstuffs, such as wheat and corn. The prices of rice, sugar, vegetable oil and animal feed dramatically increased.
Investors and speculators rushed to make use of this golden opportunity to profit. They raised the prices of these commodities to record levels, in some cases by more than 300 percent.
In most poor countries, people came out into the streets. They were confronted by the forces of oppression, and blood was spilled. Governments intervened to subsidize basic commodities, but the genie was out of the bottle. This was particularly true in Arab countries, which import more food than is consumed. The revolution was sparked by people’s anger. It spread from one country to another, one continent to the next.
Meanwhile, production in food exporting countries improved, and prices became somewhat lower. Things were stable for a while. However, there are indications that we are on the verge of a new world food crisis. This is the result of a fall in the production of corn and soya in the US because of the drought that has afflicted its most important agricultural plains.
As in 2008, speculators are sharpening their claws once again, raising the prices of corn and soya. The prices of other goods such as grain, milk and meat will follow. Soon, these vibrations will reach the Arab world again, where spring has passed and the scorching winds of summer are blowing. Oil countries, able to buy whom and what they need, may not be affected. But what about wounded Syria, where the fields have been swept by war and the countryside has been emptied?
Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.