Drought for some, green grass for others

October 10, 2012

The British National Farmers Union has just announced that this year’s  wheat yields will be the lowest since the 1980s.  Already,  corn and soybean prices are at record highs as the worst drought in more than 50 years in the United States has added to supply worries caused by drought in Russia.

Fears are running high of a global food crisis like the one that led to rioting in poor countries in 2008.

As with everything, the grass is greener in some places than in others.  In this case, the grain exporters may actually benefit from the droughts. Kazakhstan, for example, one of the world’s top 10 grain exporters, saw the value of its wheat exports soar by almost 500 percent between January and July this year compared with the same period in 2011.

So who are the big losers?

A sharp rise in food prices poses the most severe risks to Sub-Saharan Africa, while India is most at risk among the rapidly growing BRIC nations, according to the 2013 Food Security Risk Index compiled by political risk think-tank Maplecroft.

Nine out of 11 countries categorised as ‘extreme risk’ are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the 2013 Food Security Risk Index topped by Somalia and followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo. The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, made its sad debut on the index with a bang, propelled straight into the ‘extreme risk’ category.

Haiti and Afghanistan were the only two non-African countries in the top 10 most exposed to food insecurity.

The study, which assessed the availability of and access to sufficient food supplies in 197 countries, also flagged up the old truth that revolutions, of which there have been many recently among nations in the ‘medium risk’ category, are often driven by mundane reasons; by food prices as much as by ideology.  The study said, referring to the uprisings which unseated decades-old dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya:

 Lack of food security can act as a driver for civil unrest and armed violence as demonstrated by the Arab Awakening since the end of 2010.

It’s food for thought that Greece moved up to ‘medium risk’ in the 2013 index from ‘low’ in 2012.

France, which presides over a grains body created last year under the Group of 20 major economies, has called an emergency meeting of G20 farm ministers for Oct. 16 with the aim of reigning in food price volatility. The question is whether they can keep the grass green for everybody.


Shadia Nasralla

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