News / Middle East

    2011 Food Price Spikes Helped Trigger Arab Spring, Researchers Say

    Rising costs expected to become more frequent

    In a year of protests in the Arab world, high food prices helped to make oppression, corruption and poverty under autocratic leaders even more intolerable.

    “Prices are so expensive," said one protester about Egypt's leaders. " What shall we do right now? We have to stay until they are gone and give a chance to others who can satisfy our needs.”

    Price spike

    The political fires that burned across North Africa, many say, were kindled in Russia last summer. Extreme drought triggered wildfires and destroyed one-third of the country’s wheat harvest. Russia refused to export the rest of its harvest. Markets panicked and food prices shot up.

    Wildfires destroyed one-third of Russia's wheat harvest last summer, cutting off Russian wheat exports, which caused prices to shoot up.
    Wildfires destroyed one-third of Russia's wheat harvest last summer, cutting off Russian wheat exports, which caused prices to shoot up.

    “Definitely, it is one of the causes of the Arab Spring,” says Shenggen Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

    In 2008, the last time global food prices spiked, Egypt was one of several countries hit by food riots and demonstrations.

    Fan believes the return of high prices in 2011 offers some important lessons. "Food price hikes will come more often, and more frequent. So this is the first lesson we learned. Second, food prices obviously will remain very high.”

    Food prices will remain high and volatile, Fan says, because demand for food is increasing and supply is not keeping up. This year the world population hit seven billion, with another two billion expected by mid-century. People in emerging economies like China are eating more meat, which requires more animal feed.

    Feeding biofuel

    But demand for food is just one factor, according to Cornell University economist Chris Barrett. “It’s also the diversion of food and feed to the production of biofuels.”

    In the United States, 2011 was the first time more maize went to make ethanol fuel than to feed animals.

    Meanwhile, the pace of farm productivity gains has been slowing, Barrett says.

    “What we’re seeing right now is the bitter harvest of very poor investments in agriculture research over, really, the last 20 years.”

    That means a few bouts of bad weather can cause serious disruptions in world food markets today. And those disruptions are becoming more likely with climate change.

    Political realities

    Farm ministers from the G20 leading and emerging economies met for the first time this year to discuss the crisis. In 2009, G8 leaders pledged $22 billion to developing-world agriculture. But not much came of the meeting, or the pledge, from countries with financial troubles of their own, Barrett says.

    A man carries bread in Cairo on Feb. 6, 2011. Food prices continue to rise in Egypt.
    A man carries bread in Cairo on Feb. 6, 2011. Food prices continue to rise in Egypt.

    “The political realities of domestic troubles in the major economies are effectively choking off concerted public-sector response right now, which is a real concern.”

    But while those domestic troubles continue, so do the forces pushing food prices up, says Fan, of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

    “So if we do not invest in agriculture, do not invest in food production, we will continue to see tightening supply. We will continue to see high prices.”

    The good news in this is that high prices always encourage farmers to grow more. A record harvest in 2011 is helping to temper food prices in many, though not all, regions of the world.

    In Egypt, for example, food prices have continued to rise. Elsewhere, experts do not expect much downward movement in the cost of food. High and volatile food prices are in the forecast for 2012 and beyond.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora