Food Crisis

Craighouse Campus, Napier University

THE LIST of countries on the brink of disaster because of the global food crisis is growing by the week. Terrorism and security experts predict widespread social and political unrest and violent conflict in the second and third world.

Last week the United Nations’ World Food Programme announced it is to provide US$1.2 billion (£600 million) in additional food aid in the 62 countries hit hardest by the food and fuel crisis.

And Save the Children yesterday launched an emergency appeal to help children in Ethiopia who are suffering from increasing levels of hunger. The charity said a combination of drought and escalating food prices has left 4.6 million people urgently in need of food. In scenes reminiscent of the famines of the 1980s, about 736,000 of these are children under the age of five, a group which is particularly vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition.

More so than terrorism or global warming, food security will become so critical it will change global governance and result in civil unrest and food wars.

“It is clear which countries are going to be at risk,” said Graham Hutchings of Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, which provides country-specific daily risk analysis to political leaders, academics, businesses and NGOs.

“Those who are net importers of food and those with weak governments will fall, in all likelihood. The overthrow of the leader in Haiti in April over food prices is the shape of things to come.

“Those which have come across our radar are Cambodia, parts of India, the Philippines, central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and African countries such as Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. There have been food riots in Egypt, Yemen and Malaysia.”

Hutchings warned there is a very real risk of an angry popular and political backlash against the globalisation and international capitalism from the world’s growing hungry. It is understood that one of the major drivers of the food crisis is financial speculation by the West. Capital flight from the subprime market into secure commodities such as wheat futures has pushed the price of food beyond the reach of the developing world.

“Food riots and political backlash against their own governments and those of the West will increase as the food crisis continues to bite,” he said.

As the world runs out of food, it is those countries with weak governments and growing urban poor which will fall first. Inter-country tensions will also increase as policies of economic protectionism and stockpiling cause tensions.

“Politicians across the world will live or die by their ability to address subsistence and food inflation, which they won’t be able to solve.”

Professor Paul Wilkinson, an expert on terrorism and security at St Andrews University, believes more autocratic regimes may be able to ride the wave of anger.

He said: “The food crisis will create more insecurity in the world. States with poor security are the most vulnerable and if there is anger and protest over food then more governments could fall.”

Forecasting agencies, such as the world-class Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, have researched that, unless something is done, the food crisis will continue to get worse and worse year on year and predict it will accelerate beyond 2016.

While the world agonises over the global food crisis, a leading nutritional expert has offered a holy grail of a win-win diet and way of life that improves the health of the West while alleviating problems in the Third World.

Instead of the flagship commercial dieting regimes with numbered points and calorie counts, Dr Walt Willett, professor of medicine at Harvard University, claims “the optimal diet for 21st-century living” includes simple steps such as eating less red meat and consuming more cereals and fish, which will counter obesity and improve the health of the West.

Willett, the author of Eat, Drink And Weigh Less, said at Edinburgh university’s Enlightenment lecture last week that changing consumption patterns by reducing demand for red meat here will free up more land to grow crops in the developing countries.

He said: “If we changed the way we ate, modifying what we eat, we could practically end the global food crisis, since eating more crops and much less red meat animals that are fed on these crops, would free up resources to feed the world.

“What we currently do is too inefficient for the world’s resources, but by choosing the optimal diet we could feed the world.”

Scotland has one of the worst records for morbid obesity and heart disease in the world and never before has the simple act of what we eat been so closely linked to global consumption, war and famine.

Rather than a strict regime with no alcohol or red meat, Willett recommends a more sensible and balanced approach to our diets which includes moderate consumption of alcohol and a spread of food groups.

“People should avoid all commercial diets since they aren’t based on empirical evidence,” he said. “Instead, they should put themselves into the low-risk group by eating less red meat, more cereals, more fish, more vegetables taking a vitamin D supplement and not smoking and reducing body mass index to less than 25.”

By following these tips, heart disease would be reduced by 82%, type 2 diabetes by 92% and colon cancer by 71%, according to surveys conducted by the Harvard Medical School.

It would also stop as much arable land being used for biofuels and cattle feed since world demand for cereal crops would rise. By sourcing food locally, the world’s resources would not be under such strain and food production would be enough to deal with the population pressure, added Willett.

“We could solve the West’s obesity crisis and we would all live longer.”

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