Food inflation is leading to food riots

Global food prices are up 83% in the past three years, putting huge stress on some of the world’s poorest countries, notes a recent Wall Street Journal article ( 14 April 2008 ).

Rioting in response to soaring food prices recently has broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to deter food theft from fields and warehouses.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.

Some countries say the U.S. appetite for biofuels is part of the problem.

“When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels,” said India’s finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, in an interview. Turkey’s finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, said the use of food for biofuels is “appalling.”

The U.S. government notes that biofuels are only one contributor to rising food prices. Rising prices for energy and electricity also contribute, as does strong demand for food from big developing countries like China, the article said. Aggravating the problem, in some countries food inflation has prompted a wave of protectionism — in essence, trying to keep more food in their country by restricting exports. Also, some countries are boosting consumer subsidies and instituting price controls.

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The price of rice is sky high
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The price of rice is sky high

The global commodities boom that has lifted prices of everything from gasoline to gold is now elevating the price of rice — a staple food for half of the world — to its highest level in nearly 20 years. The ubiquitous grain is suffering from poor harvest and tight supplies, just as demand grows in places such as India and the Philippines. The price hikes are a boon to some farmers and investors, but the food-price inflation could widen the rift between the world’s haves and have-nots. — The Wall Street Journal (15 December 2007)