domingo, abril 13, 2008

How to Think About Food Riots (Taken from Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved blog)

haiti food riot

I just recorded a radio segment for The World with the splendid Lisa Mullins. I was there to talk about food riots. Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly coherent and, despite the skilled editing of the folk there, I worry that my butchery of the argument I was trying to make cannot be fixed.

I was trying to talk about Egypt, Haiti and Senegal, three places from which reporters were sending news. So here's my attempt at restitution - a short guide on how to think about the food riots.

The best place to start is to look at prices. We live in a world of global markets. The price of wheat has increased by over 130% in the past year. Last week, the price of rice increased 30% in a day.

Whom does this hurt most? Well, at an international level, it hits countries that import wheat and rice. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer. Haiti and Senegal import all the wheat that they consume, and over 80% of the rice that gets eaten there is from foreign sources too.

But merely being exposed to high prices doesn’t cause a riot. The European Union is the world’s second largest importer of wheat, and you’re not seeing riots there. Why not?

Because people are generally rich enough to be able to pay more for the food (even if they’re not happy about doing it) and because there are safety nets for those who can’t afford to eat.

The thing about Haiti, Egypt and Senegal is that the citizens there are much poorer than in the EU –a greater proportion of household income is being spent on food in these countries than elsewhere.

But poverty is not an adequate predictor either. The world’s poorest areas are rural, not urban. So it’s not the depth of poverty that causes riots, it’s something else.


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