Real Security Threats: Food

In Current Events, Economics on January 24, 2011 at 00:24

While the United States and the Obama Administration are chasing their tails in Afghanistan under the guise of national security, one real security threat that is being unaddressed by most in the West is food instability in the world.

““Famine and starvation create the conditions for extremism around the world, the same extremism our men and women in the armed forces are fighting right now in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere,” said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro in a fiery speech. “We fight hunger and poverty and we undercut the recruiting base for those that would threaten our families.””

It should be noted that the major international terrorist organizations are well funded and the leaders face no food security issues.

However, terrorist activities by small groups or individuals in the occupied territories (Gaza and West Bank), in Somalia, Niger and other nations are often directly linked to economic suffering, including food insecurity. Moreover, well-funded terrorist organizations recruit from nations facing such insecurity.

In 2009, according to the UN, there were a reported thirty-four food riots in nations as diverse as Liberia, Cameroon, Haiti, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia and others. (link)

Instability in these nations directly affect the security of regions and the stability of their government. Food riots in Pakistan during flooding last fall erupted in attacks on food convoys and violence between authorities, relief agencies and Pakistanis.

President Obama has even put the U.S. military on alert for “spring food riots” in 2011. If the irony hasn’t hit you yet, let me lay it out. The United States is spending over $700 billion on the military each year  and topped $1 trillion in spending in 2010 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we spent 10% of this on food security and stopped dumping U.S. grains on poor nations, we could create international good will and more secure nations. We wouldn’t need to spend so much money on weapons. There would also be the added benefit of feeding people instead of bombing and killing them.

Food Insecurity: Niger Example
As a result of the food crisis in Niger, thousands of Nigeriens have entered the five northern Nigerian states of Katsina, Yobe, Jigawa, Sokoto and Borno. The Nigeriens are seeking casual labour to earn money to buy grain.(16) At the same time Northern areas of Nigeria are also suffering from a food security crisis. As many as 12 million people may be affected by shortage of food, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) warned on 27 May 2010.(17) The influx of Nigeriens to an already struggling region may cause tension and fuel conflict. Conflict may exacerbate if the crisis continues over time as more and more people will migrate in search of food.  West Africa is already suffering from conflict within countries and between countries. Food shortage may fuel conflicts further. This crisis, if prolonged, may affect a region already strained by conflict and dispute.

Food insecurity and the potential for conflict
Food insecurity and conflict are closely related. Between 1992 and 2003, 35% of food emergencies were caused by conflict and economic problems.(18) In September 2003, 38 countries in the world faced serious food shortages requiring international assistance, 22 of these were African countries.(19) In West Africa, food insecurity is caused by both human natural disasters, making the situation more complex.(20) As a consequence of the food insecurity, ‘the conflict/post-conflict scenarios of mass migration, starvation, sectoral collapse and death due to hunger and disease (as opposed to combat-induced death) becomes more likely.’(21)

There are many causes of the global food crisis. There is the growing world population, degradation of soil and damaging weather events including droughts, floods, and unseasonably hot and cold temperatures. “Prices of grains surged in 2010, with wheat buoyed by a series of weather events including drought in Russia and its Black Sea neighbours. European wheat prices doubled, U.S. corn rose more than 50 percent while U.S. soybeans jumped 34 percent.”


The world food crisis is exacerbated by our beloved “free” markets. During the start of the world economic crisis in 2008, billions of dollars flooded the market from investors looking for a safe place to invest their profits. By infusing billions into the market, commodity prices rose dramatically, and this inflation has the most adverse affect on poor consumers in the third world who live on the margins. (link or link)

Speculation on food for profit by wealthy individuals and companies:

Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement has noted that more than $200bn has been poured into food markets since the financial crisis by speculators hunting for profit, creating volatility. The leading international grain-trading companies are doing well as a result. The US agricultural giant Cargill reeled in $1.49bn in windfall profits in its last quarter, three times its profits the year before…

It might seem like there’s nothing new here. Climate shocks, shoddy government policy, scalping by traders, speculation by bankers, biofuels, and a rising oil price. We’re not in 2008, though. The oil price isn’t quite in the $150-a-barrel recession-precipitating territory yet – but that’s as far as the good news goes. There are other reasons to worry. More than a billion people went hungry in 2009, and the shock of the past two years has stripped assets away from the poor – in order to survive poverty, many have been involved in distress sales. The last two years’ hunger and malnourishment will have indelibly affected an entire cohort of children. The recession has meant that more people are vulnerable to systemic shocks.

Another effect of the world economic crisis is the austerity programs that have been put in place around the world. Price supports and national food programs are often the first items to be cut in the third world whose budgets are ballooning in part to the rise in world food prices.

“Now that governments’ great enemy is inflation, the policies that feed the hungry are precisely the ones under the knife in a global push for market-friendly austerity. India’s home minister, P Chidambaram, recently admitted that he didn’t “have all the tools to control food inflation”. Although countries are scrambling to find ways of bridging the gaps, the great worry in 2011 is not only that inflation will eat away everyone’s earnings through higher food prices, but that the institutions and policies that might ward off the worst effects will be hexed by the markets too.”

What Price food Security
One obvious solution would be to disengage food prices from market speculation. Market solutions to hunger do not work and only exacerbate deprivation in the world. One problem United Nation’s and other international food programs encounter is that when they give food, the cost of the food they distribute is based on the market price of food. Those market prices can be manipulated by speculators out for profit. That creates an unstable market for staples. If we paid farmers of wheat, rice, corn and other foodstuffs a healthy wage, we could more easily feed the world have to worry about fluctuating prices. Alas, the free market is promoted as a solution by those who profit from it, so a few million starving people won’t be enough to change market policies.

The Small Cost of Feeding the World without Structural Changes in Commodities Markets

A ten year proposal estimates that a $90 billion dollar investment for the United States over 10 years can lead the way to food security and stop the 100 million deaths dues to malnutrition each year. The Borgen Project estimates the investment to me $40-60 billion for the U.S.  Either way, that seems like a minor investment compared to the hundreds of billions we spend each year for a military solution to our security problems.

The Borgen Project also lays out the choices for the desperately poor in the world:

A. Die from hunger or a preventable illness within the next five years.

B. Receive a free education and food from the only place that offers it to them; an extremist school that preaches hatred toward the U.S. and grooms its students for involvement with terrorist groups.

C. Rise out of poverty.  Over the course of their lifetime, they spend $30,000 on U.S. products, ranging from Colgate tooth paste (sic) to Levi Jeans and Washington Apples.

Guess which scenario is better for the U.S.? The cost of meeting these kids basic survival needs and giving them access to education is minuscule compared to the return on investment the United States receives; both in terms of economic prosperity and national securtiy (sic). The United States is essentially playing Russian roulette by ignoring the plight of these children and millions like them.

One thing is certain, competing for food is not the best global strategy for food security. We pay the price economically, politically and morally today for our inaction, and the price is rising faster than food prices.

Basic Background and basic solutions:

What to do? Go to this link, read and follow the suggestions given:

More world hunger facts:

Tex Shelters

  1. Outstanding article, Tex; things always tend to point me in the direction of believing that chaos is, in fact, the goal. Peace, education, and care for our fellows? How can the power and money elite create order out of the lack of chaos?

  2. You always miss the elephant in the room dude.
    The U.S. China and all other IMF countries are flooding the world with cheap money to save there dying bank systems.

    Gold, copper, cotton, oil soy corn all commodities all rising.

    Interest rates are zero!!!! Trillions in quantum easing!!!

    By the way countries dont rise out of poverty for one simple reason. And one reason alone.

    Rising out of poverty is not profitable. america does not need or want competition, just cheap labor.

    The IMF almost openly admits pillaging countries with financing deals

    This cheap/free money needs somewhere to go.

    Everybody knows inflation is on the way, so what do they do???

    HARD ASSETS. It aint rocket science man

  3. Link: If there was some level of societal consensus around what is ‘enough’, we could plan for a very different type of society, not just for a few but for all….


    • Actually, how many calories we need to survive and thrive is a scientific question, not a societal one.

      However, the question of how much we need to be happy is another question.

      Tex Shelters

  4. Never thought I’d agree with Wes.

    Chaos is in the best interests of many. It took time for me to realize that if food security were desirable and well-functioning food-commodities markets were what were wanted, then a paradigm for both would be in place.

  5. Excellent article, Tex.

    Meanwhile, the megacorps are also quietly buying up something quite related to food production and otherwise necessary to all: Our water.

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