News / Africa

Nations Seek to Prevent Uprisings by Controlling Food Prices

Violent protests in Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia recall 2007, 2008 food riots

Thousands of demonstrators protest in central Cairo to demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms. (Jan. 25, 2011)
Thousands of demonstrators protest in central Cairo to demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms. (Jan. 25, 2011)

As food prices soar worldwide, experts are advising policymakers that certain strategies to calm the markets - and the populace - do more harm than good.

Recent demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria recall memories of food riots in several countries in 2007 and 2008. While experts say the situation today has not reached that level, lessons learned then are part of a new guide the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published aimed at help policymakers wrestling with high food prices.

Don't ban exports

"I think the most negative experience in 2008 was the ban on exports," says FAO senior advisor Garry Smith.

India, Vietnam and other countries banned rice exports after bad weather damaged their crops. But taking rice off an already tight world market kicked global prices even higher.

"That's one of the things we strongly discourage," Smith says.

But Russia banned wheat exports this summer after drought ruined a third of its harvest.

"It's obviously also contributed to the current price situation," Smith says.

India has also banned onion exports in the face of high domestic prices. Experts are most concerned about the impacts of rising prices on an FAO list of 77 low-income countries that rely heavily on food imports, including 25 in Asia and 43 in Africa.

Price controls

Ethiopia is trying to control inflation by setting maximum prices for staple foods. Smith says that approach rarely works.

"It's all very well for a government to say, 'That's the maximum price,'" he says, "but what typically happens is product just moves to a black market."

In the legal markets, merchants forced to sell goods at a loss cannot afford to re-stock. In parts of Ethiopia, VOA reports on shortages of price-controlled goods such as cooking oil and oranges.

"Both export bans and price controls are pure political posturing," says agricultural economist Chris Barrett at Cornell University. "They tend not to wind up benefiting the poor populations that they most need to benefit."

Reserves buffer prices

Experts say global grain reserves currently are large enough to prevent a crisis on the scale of 2007-2008.

Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, are looking into increase their national reserves to build a bigger buffer.

"A buffer stock is very effective at helping to take the top off price spikes," Barrett says. However, he adds, "Those are typically expensive to maintain. They're very vulnerable to political manipulation when the states wants to suppress prices a bit, especially in the run-up to elections."

Boost imports

Governments can take a lighter approach by lowering tariffs to boost imports of staples.

Maximo Torero with the International Food Policy Research Institute says this approach can help, but it must be done carefully because the government will lose revenue.

"They have to get that money from somewhere else to keep their budget in balance," he says. "So, those types of policies can only be implemented for short term periods if you don't want to get into a fiscal problem."

Algeria has decided to accept that risk. Riots already broke out there earlier this month. FAO's Garry Smith says boosting imports will bring prices down.

"The question," he says, "is whether it's used as just a blunt instrument to be dumped into the market at subsidized prices and push the whole market down, or whether it's used to support needy groups."

Target the needy

Smith says targeting measures to needy groups is a much better way for governments to tackle the crisis. While he pans Ethiopia's price controls, he praises the country's safety net program.

"Local communities identify needy households," he says. "That's a way that we can better assure accurate targeting of need."

In addition to providing funds those families can use to buy food in local markets, the program also creates jobs for the unemployed in water or conservation projects or other plans aimed at improving agricultural productivity.

Smith says that's important, because investing in agriculture is how countries will avoid these problems in the future. But even though 70 percent of the world's extremely poor live in rural areas, Smith says, "Politicians will always err towards choices [that] will pacify urban communities because they're the ones who rise up."

Preventing those uprisings may be the goal in the short term. But Smith says a country's long-term food security lies with its farmers.

You May Like

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Paradei
X
Anush Avetisyan
November 26, 2014 10:57 PM
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Jerome Socolovsky DATELINE: New York, NY CAMERA: Jerome Socolovsky, Hakim Shammo VIDEO EDITOR: Jerome Socolovsky VIDEO FROM: VOA NUMBER: 9379817 Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid