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Page added on September 25, 2011

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Food becoming driving force of world political affairs

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The recent outbreak of famine in Somalia, which has caused numerous deaths and the flow of thousands of refugees to neighboring countries, has put the food factor at the heart of world political debate.
Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış said that in the face of an increasing population, water scarcity and climate change, food may become a new factor like oil in global politics. According to Bağış the amount of food around the world is adequate to feed everyone; however, due to inequalities in the distribution and possession of food, whenever water scarcity or drought appear, they negatively impact inhabitants of the developing world. Already in 2011, according to the UN Food Price Index, food prices have reached an all-time global high. Under these circumstances, with rapid acceleration of food demand, stimulated by the growing consumption rates of developing powers such as China and Brazil, the current high food prices will affect people inhabiting the least developed areas of the world.

To elaborate on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) recent records, approximately 13.6 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people are undernourished, mostly in developing states. If the current growth of the world’s population continues steadily, each year the world’s farmers will need to feed another approximately 80 million people.

With the rapid increase in population, there is a great demand for food. Today, there is also a rising willingness on the part of countries such as China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, whose populations have surpassed the available domestic land and water resources, to buy or lease fertile land in other countries. According to a 2010 World Bank analysis, approximately 140 million acres of land are being used this way, mostly in low-income countries.

Considering the big gaps between states in terms of economic and agricultural capacity, the rise in food prices and effects of environmental calamities are not equally felt around the world. In light of recent events, it seems that the balance of power among states will be shaped by the ability to export and import food products.

The droughts in large exporters such as Russia and Argentina in 2008, as well as floods in Canada and Pakistan, have strongly affected food prices, automatically leading to a decrease in the exports of food, which has negatively influenced import-oriented countries.

Professor Gökhan Bacık, director of the Middle East Strategic Center at Zirve University, says most Middle Eastern states have undertaken large subsidies introduced to appease populations discontent with autocratic regimes. “In the late ‘90s, Jordan witnessed its infamous bread riots. It was for the most part the end of state subsidies to rural and poor people, as the government faced severe economic deficits with subsidy-based agendas. Recently, the Saudi king initiated a social program of not less than $70 billion, just after the Arab Spring, to appease the public and prevent a potential rebellion.” Bacık points out that the fluctuations in the global economy indeed reduce capital flow to the Middle East. In particular, the rising prices of food became the major economic factor behind the civil uprisings known as the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa. The current famine in East Africa motivated the international community to discuss and implement actions to prevent the food catastrophe in Somalia from worsening and potentially affecting an additional 11 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea who are also struggling to find enough food to eat.

In late July the second largest intergovernmental organization worldwide, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), mobilized humanitarian relief for Somalia in an urgent session held in İstanbul to save millions of starving and suffering people from the terrible famine in the Horn of Africa. “This meeting is being held in response to an alarming humanitarian crisis prevailing in the Horn of Africa and in particular in Somalia, where severe famine is threatening the lives of over 3 million people,” OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu said at the time.

Writing in Today’s Zaman in early August, Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, argued in his article “Famine and hope in the Horn of Africa” that the current famine in Somalia has its roots in the colonial past, when the border between Somalia and Ethiopia was arbitrarily drawn, leading to perpetual conflict between the two, accompanied by economic and political turbulence. He says the situation in the Horn of Africa is potentially explosive due to this and other reasons, such as rising fertility rates, drought, poverty and unstable politics in the region. The developed countries, especially the US, “are far too focused on expensive and failed military approaches in the world’s drylands, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, to pay heed to long-term economic development strategies aimed at addressing the root causes of these countries’ ongoing crises,” Sachs says. Professor Ebru Altınoğlu from Fatih University says: “The least-developed countries, especially in Africa, are mostly dependent on a single food product, called a ‘monocrop’ or ‘cash crop.’ This means that any decline in demand for that particular food product on the part of developed countries automatically causes a sort of crisis in the territory where that crop is the only source of trade and prosperity. Turkey should consider food as a strategic factor in the further development of its political and diplomatic relations on both the regional and global levels.”

The current situation is different for consumers in the US and Europe, where the prices of food may not be as challenging as they are for consumers in Somalia or Pakistan. Consumers in those countries are more concerned about the prices of energy and housing. However, in developing parts of the globe, food is the primary source of energy, and the issue of high food prices is a major political event.


One Comment on "Food becoming driving force of world political affairs"

  1. Kenz300 on Sun, 25th Sep 2011 8:57 pm 

    Too few resources meets too many people.
    Limited resources of food, water, oil and jobs are coming head to head with an ever expanding world population. This is not sustainable.

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