This week, food riots are erupting in the poorest countries of the world, such as Haiti, where the majority of the population lives on under $2 a day. The protesters are calling for the resignation of their government, for its inability to provide basic necessities to the population. See this BBC News short video.

The price of grains, especially wheat (which has doubled in the past year), has been on a steady uphill trend for the past few years, causing major food shortages across much of the Global South.

(image from BBC)

I want to highlight 4 underlying causes of this global food shortage:

1) Growing Inequality between the wealthiest and poorest people. Greater affluence in industrializing countries is driving larger levels of meat consumption, which requires far more wheat, other grains, and water to be consumed in order to produce the same amount of food. In fact, the majority of grains produced in the world are now fed to animals for meat. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people in the Global South are on the brink of starvation, or literally already starving.

2) Global Warming is causing unreliable and chaotic weather patterns across much of the food-producing regions of the world. Arable lands are turning into deserts as droughts worsen, while other regions are flooding with unseasonable downpours. These combine to create massive agricultural loss.

3) Biofuels like ethanol from corn production in the U.S. are quite literally food being used to fuel industry and automobiles. This manifests in driving up the cost of food for everyone, especially the poor, so that the largest agribusiness firms can earn huge profits, and the illusion of American prosperity surrounding large cars and wasteful consumerism can be maintained at all costs.

4) Most fundamental, The Global Oil Production Peak, which took place in 2006, is causing declining supplies of oil while demand surges across the industrial and industrializing world. We have seen a drastic and increasing rise in the price of oil over this period, which most Americans recognize in the high cost of gasoline. But for the poor of the world, a much more dire situation is emerging with food, because oil and other fossil fuels are the sources for most industrial fertilizers and pesticides, and because the modern system of food production and distribution are heavily dependent on oil for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and cooking. In fact, the average American consumes over 10 calories of fossil fuels for every calorie of food eaten! Most people in the world can’t continue to afford this oil subsidy, and the crisis will only deepen as oil production declines in the coming years.

The Rising Price of Oil

(Image courtesy OILNERGY)