With America struggling to cope with the worst drought in 56 years, the situation in 2007-2008 was nothing compared to what is happening right now; the global food market is liable to head into serious trouble, which is a cause for concern all round.
Essential crops of basic commodities such as wheat, corn and soya beans have been decimated right across the agricultural heartland of America. This is causing prices in the international food market to surge more rapidly than they did in 2007-2008, when high prices and shortages resulted in food riots in at least 30 countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Morocco, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bangladesh and South Africa. Unsurprisingly, some governments actually collapsed as a direct result of this global unrest.
Pakistan did not escape unscathed either: food prices rose to an astronomical degree and the government was blamed for taking a lackadaisical attitude towards ensuring food security for the population; most of which struggles to make ends meet on incomes way below the recognised poverty line.
This time around, the situation is liable to be far worse. Here in Pakistan, some of the country’s prime agricultural areas have been struggling with a drought since late last year and the situation is liable to be exacerbated by, so far, way below average monsoon rains. And if they arrive at all now, they will cause much devastation, having implications on a variety of fronts.
It is all too easy to dismiss or completely ignore — as the government is in the bad habit of doing — the potential implications of escalating global food prices. This escalation is caused by a combination of three main factors: the American drought and associated crop failures, the rising price of oil and the largely uncontrolled financial speculation in commodity futures — the latter being the ‘thing’ to invest in for fast profits ever since the collapse of equities and mortgage bond markets.
Here in Pakistan, agriculture is in a state of increasing disarray; prices of essential basic commodities including wheat, rice, ghee/cooking oil, lentils, fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products are increasing on an almost weekly basis. The majority of the population of over 180 million has to spend at least 75 per cent of their meagre incomes on food. Further increase in price and shortages, with the latter always resulting in hoarding and profiteering, are liable to cause a massive civil unrest — an unrest which has been simmering away under the surface for a very long time now. The situation is so serious now that the Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) has recently asked the government to take emergency steps on the food security front and accomplish this before the impending global food crisis reaches the critical levels expected in the very near future.
This is a problem that should have been anticipated by meteorological departments worldwide. Strangely, however, it was expected by financial speculators who invested trillions of dollars in food. Unfortunately, ignoring the crisis will not make it go away and it is hoped that the government pays heed to the warnings and does something, now.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.