The Multilateralist

Are rising food prices producing political reform?

Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organization are sounding the alarm about rising food prices. Fair enough. But this Oxfam post comes perilously close to glorifying political stability: When the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced January 5th of this year that food prices had reached an all time high, my colleague Gawain Kripke warned ...

Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organization are sounding the alarm about rising food prices. Fair enough. But this Oxfam post comes perilously close to glorifying political stability:

When the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced January 5th of this year that food prices had reached an all time high, my colleague Gawain Kripke warned that, “the record rise in food prices is a grave reminder that until we act on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change, we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife’s edge of disaster.” A year of extreme weather, along with other short and long-term factors, had shocked our food system, disrupting supply chains and sending the price of many food items through the roof.

Just days later rioters in Algeria were heard chanting, “Give us sugar!” as they kicked off a new wave of sometimes violent protests that haven shaken the tenuous foundation of stability across North Africa and the Middle East. Gawain’s warning, it seems, had proven prophetic sooner than most might have expected.

Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organization are sounding the alarm about rising food prices. Fair enough. But this Oxfam post comes perilously close to glorifying political stability:

When the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced January 5th of this year that food prices had reached an all time high, my colleague Gawain Kripke warned that, “the record rise in food prices is a grave reminder that until we act on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change, we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife’s edge of disaster.” A year of extreme weather, along with other short and long-term factors, had shocked our food system, disrupting supply chains and sending the price of many food items through the roof.

Just days later rioters in Algeria were heard chanting, “Give us sugar!” as they kicked off a new wave of sometimes violent protests that haven shaken the tenuous foundation of stability across North Africa and the Middle East. Gawain’s warning, it seems, had proven prophetic sooner than most might have expected.

So rising food prices are contributing to political unrest, which appears to be knocking off a succession of fairly awful Arab governments. Can we at least say that rising food prices aren’t an unambiguously bad thing?

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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