When food prices go up, middle-class families in developed nations complain and often switch to lower-priced alternatives. But the current food crisis goes far beyond the preferences of food-secure consumers.
Massive drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest and Eastern Europe over the summer of 2012 meant fewer crops coming to market. Wheat, soybeans, and corn—all staple grains for consumers worldwide—are selling at a premium. Food prices jumped approximately 10 percent globally, and the short supplies indicate that they are unlikely to decrease any time soon.
For food-insecure regions, such news is devastating, especially if the countries that produce these staple crops engage in export restrictions. Several U.N. agencies responsible for food-related issues thus have predicted a dire threat of international starvation if some remedy is not quickly forthcoming.
Although the drought conditions are the primary cause of this most recent food crisis, other factors weigh in as well. Increasing conversion of cropland to other uses has led to decreasing production overall. As a result, even in a good year, the amount of grain grown is barely enough to meet worldwide demand. Furthermore, consumers in the poorest countries often lack access to reliable infrastructures, such that up to one-third of all produce deliveries are wasted or spoiled.
In some ways, the crisis already has exerted an effect. The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria were sparked in part by people’s concern over rising food prices. In European nations undergoing austerity measures, such as Spain and Greece, massive demonstrations have demonstrated people’s frustration as well.
Source: Michael Haddon and Christopher Emsden, “U.N. Calls for Measures to Avert a Food Crisis,” The Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2012.