View Full Version : Food security: A matter of war and peace

02-09-2012, 12:58 PM
Food security: A matter of war and peace

This year marks the moment when the world’s population will pass the 7 billion mark. It will be the first time in recorded history that the number of people will have doubled in the span of one generation. The implications of this monumental event on food security are enormous – and having enough to eat is an indubitably a hair-trigger for mass uprisings of the kind we’re seeing daily.

As we watch the 2011 revolutions continue to unfold in North Africa and the Middle East, it's worth reflecting on the role of food security as a trigger of unrest. At the time of the first protests in Tunisia and Egypt, bread prices had risen 30% in the past year due to global shortages in the supply of wheat.
What's striking is how this is reported as some sort of novelty or unexpected phenomenon. On closer examination of history, food security issues tend to accompany protests and revolutions. What should concern world leaders is not what has happened, but that we can expect much more of what's already occurred. Early last month, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the UN’s primary food and agriculture monitoring body, issued a release announcing global record highs for food prices and the seventh consecutive month of price increases.

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, the adage cautions. Why are we not learning? The cautionary tales are there. From France to India, hunger and food production have long played a major role in revolutions and social upheaval. Food security, then and today, remains a trigger of conflict.
While difficult to imagine, given their culinary eminence today, many Frenchmen subsisted only on bread and little else in the 18th century. The roots of the French Revolution were created during the harsh winter of 1788-89, when wheat shortages caused the price of bread to rise nearly 90% in one year, and the people turned on the government, demanding relief. During the Revolution itself, bread riots again erupted, helping to ignite the infamous Reign of Terror in 1793.

Nearly 150 years later in India, Gandhi set out on his famous "Salt Satyagraha," walking 240 miles to the coast to produce salt without paying tax, enduring beatings after violating the British Raj salt laws and growing a movement. This display of civil disobedience encouraged millions of Indians to follow suit, setting the stage for the long-term recognition of claims by Gandhi and India's Congress Party.

In its most recent edition, The Economist asked "the nine billion person question" -- that is to say, how will the world feed the more than 2 billion new mouths that will likely be added over the next 40 years. There were some answers -- e.g. higher yielding and "biofortified" crops, better use of technology and irrigation, reducing waste - but certainly not enough to make up the difference when you consider a billion individuals around the world are already suffering from chronic hunger today. Add in the fact that many in the emerging middle class in China and India have a growing appetite for meat and the dramatic effects of climate change, and you have a formula for serious unrest.

Food, one of the staples of human survival, has long been present, if on the perimeter, of revolutions and protests across the world. Price increases have forced millions of people into poverty and who must spend more than 50% of their income on putting food on the table. As the numbers of hungry mouths grow, and we have precious few answers, we should all expect food to migrate from the periphery of protests and conflict to the centre.

Consider Bangladesh, the world's eighth most populous country. I visited Dhaka recently to observe our work on the ground, and saw long lines for modest portions of rice distributed by aid trucks. This is the reality of survival for many in Bangladesh, particularly since the price of rice has increased by 100% over the past three years. But what happens when prices continue their trajectory? What happens when there's less and less rice in those aid trucks while the population of Bangladesh continues to rise? These are unpleasant ideas to consider, but to deny them entirely is to live in fantasy.

As world leaders evaluate their strategies for food security and the world's population continues to grow, they should keep in mind the close historical linkages between food security and revolutions. This issue is too complicated and too central to be addressed by governments alone; researchers, organisations and engaged citizens must join in a movement and heed the lessons history has shown us. Otherwise, it could be our citizens on the streets next. DM

Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former Minister in Mandela Government and Chair of a GAIN a Global Foundation Fighting malnutrition in the World. You can also visit his Facebook Page or www.thejustcause.org.

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02-10-2012, 05:07 PM
The African Land Grab

10 February 2012, 12:07

The fact that Africa is rich in natural resources has in the past been its own Achilles heel, we all know there's plenty of oil to be found in central and north Africa. Diamonds are a plenty with Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau racking them up and Zimbabwe just recently jumped onto the bandwagon by finding large diamond pits. Then there's gold, platinum, Uranium and the list goes on.

In the context of natural resources this continent is wealthy beyond imagine. Something has surely drawn the Chinese here?
All this aside, there's another lesser known but probably more important commodity that Africa holds.

Just the other day I came across a very interesting statistic regarding the percentage of arable land that has yet to be farmed in the world. Africa has 45% of this that has yet been touched (in terms of agriculutre). That's almost half of the available land on the planet that can be used to grow crops.

Naturally this begs the question, why are there so many African countries facing food shortages and hunger when as a continent it techincally can provided for itself and even have excess for export (and importantly creating sustainable jobs). All this in theory of course.
The potential is staggering.

In the same article it stated that Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania had sold off over a million hectares each to South Korean, Chinese and Bangladeshi interests which have set up agricultural activities in those countries. Now one can only hope these countries are benefitting from handing over of this prime land in the form of infrastructure and jobs, but instinct tells me otherwise.

In our own country the same applies, we have some of the most innovative and resourceful farmers in the world yet their numbers are dropping rapidly. Why? Farm murders aside which is another tragedy in itself.

They can’t really compete with the imported produce as this is cheaper, unfairly so as it's massively subsidised by the US and European governments. This country needs jobs, and we need farmers...so direct the resources into that industry, it'll put less pressure on the cities and also rejuvenate the rural parts all the while making us self sustainable.

Why are we allowing these ‘cheaper’ products in? Trade pacts and all that foreign relations nonsense keeps our hands tied most of the time, but I disagree that South Africa (and even Africa) has to bow down to the first world countries and eastern powers, in terms of leverage we have a lot to offer but always pull the short straw?


Eric H
02-10-2012, 05:41 PM
Greetings and peace be with you Zaria;

Thanks for posting, injudtice and poverty are a sin against God, it just seems so unfair how wealth is distributed.

In the spirit of praying for justice for all people


02-11-2012, 04:04 AM
yes, and they print more paper cash to pay the soldiers thereby devaluing the currency even more.
sunnah money really could go a long way:

Abu Bakr ibn Abi Maryam reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah say:
“A time is certainly coming over mankind in which there will be nothing (left) that will be of use (or benefit)
save a Dinar (i.e., a gold coin) and a Dirham (i.e., a silver coin).”
(Musnad, Ahmad)

[This prophecy clearly anticipates the eventual collapse of the fraudulent monetary system now functioning around the world.]

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