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.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More