The return of food riots

The return of food riots

Yesterday, the Food and Agriculture Organization announced that global food prices hit a record high last month, surpassing levels seen during the 2007-2008 food crisis. Prices of the commodities in the FAO’s price index jumped 4.2 percent between November and December. But the Financial Times sounded a hopeful note:

The Rome-based organisation said the increase did not constitute a crisis. But Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the FAO, acknowledged that the situation was “alarming”. He added: “It will be foolish to assume this is the peak.”

The jump will increase fears about the repetition of the crisis of 2007-2008. However, poor countries have not so far seen the wave of food riots that rocked countries such as Haiti and Bangladesh two years ago, when prices of agricultural commodities jumped.

But sure enough, today brought news of food rioting in Algeria: 

Riots over rising food prices and chronic unemployment spiraled out from Algeria’s capital on Thursday, with youths torching government buildings and shouting "Bring us Sugar!"

Police helicopters circled over Algiers, and stores closed early. Security officers blocked off streets in the tense working-class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, near the capital’s ancient Casbah, and areas outside the city were swept up in the rampages.[…]

Wednesday’s violence started after evening Muslim prayers. It came after price hikes for milk, sugar and flour in recent days, and amid simmering frustration that Algeria’s abundant gas-and-oil resources have not translated into broader prosperity.

This is a very troubling development, and one to keep an eye on in the months ahead.