Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed’s new Guardian blog post explores the link between food prices, environmental change and political revolt.
Just over two years since Egypt’s dictator President Hosni Mubarak resigned , little has changed. Cairo’s infamous Tahrir Square has remained a continual site of clashes between demonstrators and security forces, despite a newly elected president. It’s the same story in Tunisia, and Libya where protests and civil unrest have persisted under now ostensibly democratic governments.
The problem is that the political changes brought about by the Arab spring were largely cosmetic. Scratch beneath the surface, and one finds the same deadly combination of environmental, energy and economic crises.
We now know that the fundamental triggers for the Arab spring were unprecedented food price rises. The first sign things were unravelling hit in 2008, when a global rice shortage coincided with dramatic increases in staple food prices, triggering food riots across the middle east, north Africa and south Asia. A month before the fall of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported record high food prices for dairy, meat, sugar and cereals.
Since 2008, global food prices have been consistently higher than in preceding decades, despite wild fluctuations. This year, even with prices stabilising, the food price index remains at 210 – which some experts believe is the threshold beyond which civil unrest becomes probable. The FAO warns that 2013 could see prices increase later owing to tight grain stocks from last year’s adverse crop weather.
Whether or not those prices materialise this year, food price volatility is only a symptom of deeper systemic problems – namely, that the global industrial food system is increasingly unsustainable. Last year, the world produced 2,241m tonnes of grain, down 75m tonnes or 3% from the 2011 record harvest.
And How to Save It
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
Argues that the many world crises, including the financial meltdown, climate change and terrorism, are connected problems of a failing global system.
“[Ahmed’s] arguments are in the main forceful and well-sourced, with particularly good sections on agribusiness, US policies of ‘energy security’, and what he terms the ‘securitisation’ of ordinary life by Western governments.” – Guardian
“How can a discussion of the all too familiar crises of our time be a hopeful book? By combining a microscopic dissection of the structure of each with a telescopic view of how they weave together in a whole system. If the myriad international conferences and programs haven’t worked, it isn’t that we have to try harder but that we have to confront the whole free of conventional constraints. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed confronts the whole.” – Richard Levins, John Rock Professor of Population Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University; author, Evolution in Changing Environments