food riot
Throughout history, food shortages have led to civil unrest. Most notably in recent history, the Global Food Crisis of 2008 spurred an outbreak of food riots around the world. Now, with food prices increasing at the highest rate since 2008, political leaders are concerned that a similar outbreak of food riots may be on its way.

In the beginning of 2014, international food prices rose 4 percent. In the time between January and April, food prices spiked to a level just short of their all-time high in August 2012. The rapid increase is similar to the surge in food prices in 2007 and 2008 that led to so many food riots.

If history repeats itself, the recent food price hikes give government officials adequate reason to worry.

The difficulty with monitoring food riots is that the term is loosely defined. In broad terms, a food riot is some sort of public disturbance raised in response to food’s availability. Interpretations of this definition, however, are as varied as the riots themselves, leading to a great deal of confusion surrounding the topic of food riots.

How severe must the disturbance be to earn the title of a riot? A food riot is generally a violent protest. Participants have been known to harm other citizens or police forces. In return, police forces respond with brutality to control the situation. Some news articles will only cite occasions that have resulted in casualties as food riots.

Other news sources believe that any public response to food-related issues falls in this category. They report even the most peaceful demonstrations as food riots.

Where is the proper balance? How can the media successfully educate the public on these world events without an accepted definition of a riot?

In the wake of recent food pricing inclines, The World Bank has developed a widely accepted definition to guide examinations of these conflicts. Their 2014 Food Price Watch defines a food riot as “a violent, collective unrest leading to a loss of control, bodily harm or damage to property.”

The definition has helped The World Bank determine which episodes in the recent past were actually food riots. A database of food riots between 2007 and 2014 has since been collected, revealing that 51 riots have taken place in 37 countries.

The cause of food riots also prompts confusion. Increasing food prices are not the only cause of riots. In Vietnam, decreasing prices of coffee have resulted in violent outbreaks in the past. A decline in value of major exports can have just as strong of an impact on a nation as unavailability of food and other resources.

The World Bank has also established guidelines for the causes of food riots, saying that they are “motivated by a lack of food availability, accessibility or affordability,” whether directed at the government or other groups.

There are two types of food riots. In a Type 1 incident, the riots are directed at the government. Distress takes its form in public protests outside of government buildings, often in response to rising food prices. It is the most common form of food riot reported in the media because their causes often have international implications.

In a Type 2 episode, rioters demonstrate near food suppliers because they are not politically driven. They attack supply trucks, stores or refugee camps. These riots are more locally focused and occur during times of drastic food shortages.

Defining food riots helps aid organizations determine how to best help areas experiencing food shortages to prevent violent outbreaks. Government officials know how to respond to rising food prices by studying food riots of the past. By alleviating causes of global hunger, aid organizations and government officials can increase peace in underprivileged nations.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: Food Price Watch, Global Issues, Slate, The World Bank
Photo: NPR

Technology Won't Solve World Hunger Kids Using Laptop
Ideas for ending world hunger are the subject of deep contention and intrigue. Conversations about how best to go about ending hunger are held among regular people far removed from the international, sociopolitical arena or non-profit sector, as well as among leaders in national governments and conferring minds within the United Nations.

Duncan Green in The Guardian recently reminded the world of the stark contrasts between those who can afford to eat and the nearly 900 million who sleep on empty stomachs. Progressive efforts underway in Ghana and Brazil have seen initiatives such as cash transfers to the impoverished and an increase in minimum wage. These programs have made strides, but in nations like India that are growing exponentially, the government must address the issue.

Of the myriad of ways to eradicate hunger, is technology perhaps a truly viable option at this point? If so, are the contributions made by technology being overlooked as a way to finally solve world hunger, or is technology simply a tool in this case?

Josette Sheeran, blogging for The Huffington Post, seems to think that technology is something of a cure-all for world hunger. She talks of the electronic vouchers used in Palestinian territories that give people greater access to food. The World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for that, and other projects, such as the one in the Philippines that uses texting to feed workers. People participate in work projects and can collect their payment at participating food shops.

The WFP also uses social media with their WeFeedBack initiative that lets the user online select a favorite food and using a special calculator, can see based on its cost how many children would be fed with it. The calculated amount is what WFP encourages the user to donate.

Not long ago, a lab-grown burger patty was cooked and eaten in view of the public, touted as a way to help save both planet and people. A report from The Atlantic posits that the world already produces enough food to feed a growing global population and that new technology won’t necessarily solve the hunger crisis. Three-dimensional food printers are also a new tech tool being developed, but the report makes the case that in-house food printers won’t be an appliance in every kitchen because regular people cannot figure out the technology.

Why, then, would these technologies work in the emergent world? And, even if labs in emergent nations were capable of mass producing meat, consumption would be limited to the middle class and upper classes.

Sarah Sloat for Pacific Standard cites a 2012 paper by CUNY law student Rebecca Bratspies that says food production has grown inversely proportional to the hungry. Better food distribution will help solve hunger more than technological developments. The feeling, then, is that even with the massive amount of resources available to solve the world hunger crisis, the solutions are not dependent upon increased production.

Technology in food production has proven to increase production, but access is still contingent upon how food is distributed and how easily available it is to those who need it. Getting there may not be an issue of widespread production, but rather individual nations doing what they can to feed citizens.

David Smith

Sources: The Guardian, The Atlantic
Photo: Huffington Post

Can Converting Cellulose Into Starch Solve World Hunger?
When considering the most pressing issues confronting global poverty in the next 30 to 40 years, none are more alarming than the food shortages predicted to accompany a worldwide population of over nine billion people. In an effort to ameliorate future food insecurity, more and more research funding has been allocated towards finding sustainable, nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates capable of meeting the caloric demands of a greatly expanded populace. Quite astonishingly, in a turn of events that have even researchers optimistic about future food security challenges, scientists have recently discovered a way of converting cellulose into starch.

Researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, along with their College of Engineering devised an ingenious method of converting cellulose into starch by utilizing a process involving cascading enzymes. Basically, enzymatic reactions transform cellulose – an abundant carbohydrate contained in the cell wall of plants – into amylose and ethanol, which means that absolutely nothing goes to waste. The potential of the cellulose to starch conversion opens up exciting new frontiers in the fight against world hunger, as humans generally derive 20 to 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from complex carbohydrates such as starch.

In regards to the process of converting cellulose into starch, Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering Y.H. Percival Zhang remarked that “Cellulose and starch have the same chemical formula, the difference is in their chemical linkages. Our idea is to use an enzyme cascade to break up the bonds in cellulose, enabling their reconfiguration as starch.”

Scientific breakthroughs such as converting cellulose into starch serve to unlock the potential of feeding the entire world’s population without the necessary land, water, and fertilizer usage that wreaks havoc on the earth’s delicate ecosystems. Furthermore, by harnessing the scientific technology necessary to transform something as abundant as plant cellulose into a viable human food source, future challenges such as global food security are looking much more surmountable.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic

A billion people in the world suffer from hunger or malnutrition. While most of the world’s hungry live in places with high rates of extreme poverty, such as Africa and the Middle East, many also live here in the United States. Some consider a billion hungry people the definition of a global food crisis. Others say that things could get much worse. Either way, hundreds of social, agricultural, and humanitarian organizations are working to alleviate hunger and improve food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions.

Over the last five years, droughts, extreme temperatures, and unusual weather in some of the world’s most productive agricultural regions, including the US, have caused prices for wheat, corn, soybeans, and other food staples to increase dramatically. This has led to higher prices for many food products, especially animal products. As usual, the world’s poor have been most affected by the increase in prices. For those who either spend a substantial amount of their income on food or rely on subsistence farming to feed themselves, a certain increase in the price of food directly results in ongoing hunger and food insecurity.

Different crops affect various populations in distinct ways. Rice and wheat are the two major cereal staples in the diets of the world’s poor. Therefore, as long as those prices remain stable, a global food crisis can be averted. While increases in the price of corn will affect gas prices and meat prices, this will not necessarily contribute to a global food crisis. Most corn grown in the US is either manufactured into ethanol or fed to livestock, and the world’s poorest people cannot afford to buy much meat or gasoline in the first place.

However, a low yield of one crop can put pressure on the production and export of other crops. When the corn crop suffered in 2012, this caused an increased demand for wheat as livestock feed. This demand drove up the price of wheat, and reduced the supply of wheat available for export to places such as the Middle East, where much of the population relies on imported wheat for sustenance.

Economists and food experts warn against overreacting to high prices, as panic can create tighter restrictions and more problems. In order to begin to solve the global food crisis, we must focus not on what has gone wrong, but on what can be done to increase agricultural yields, implement sustainable farming methods, improve consumer access to affordable, healthy food, and help more of the world’s poor achieve food security.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has recommended that structural causes of food insecurity be addressed through the complementary techniques of short-term emergency aid and long-term sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo: World Bank

Who is Benefiting From Land and Water Grabbing?It is assumed that the already existing gap between developed and developing nations is large and apparent enough that wealthier nations would try and fill this gap and bring these opposite ends closer together. According to an ABC Environmental article, however, wealthy nations are instead competing over ‘land’ and ‘water grabbing’ to appease their growing populations and the “stressed” supply of basic necessities such as food and water. Investors in a foreign land, or better yet, the land-grabbers, are countries and investment firms from biofuel producers to large-scale farming operations (agricultural investors).

Since 2000, the major countries that have contributed to this land purchasing are the U.S., Malaysia, the U.K., China, and the U.A.E. Experts aren’t sure of these investors’ motives but it is clear that they are only focusing on buying land where there is clear access to water.

‘Land grabbing’ is defined by Paolo D’Odorico, a professor at the University of Virginia, as “a deal for about two km2 or more that converts an environmentally important area currently used by local people to commercial production.” According to an environmental study, 454 billion cubic meters sums up the ‘water-grabbing’ per year by corporations on a global scale, which is about 5 percent of the world’s annual water consumption. According to the public database Land Matrix “1,217 deals have taken place, which transferred over 830,000 square kilometers of land” since 2000, with 62 percent of such deals happening in Africa alone.

From 2005 to 2009, during a major food price crisis, land purchases, which fall under a very low level of regulation, skyrocketed. In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. released guidelines that advise investors to consider the people and communities whose land is being used. However, such guidelines are viewed as humanitarian concerns and have little enforcement, meaning that they aren’t strict enough to have corporations and investors abide by them or even care for them.

Governments who are interested in and have been leasing and selling land to foreign countries and investors are mainly those in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. They are interested in these sales because they want to modernize their farming and believe this is the way to do it. However, the reality is that the resulting development from such ‘land and water grabbing’ depends on the investors’ terms and conditions, as well as their sense of morality.

The main problem is that the majority of these sales are happening in poor countries in which there are high rates of hunger and where resources valuable to the local populations are being purchased by wealthier developed nations or even by private corporations. The main question of the matter is this: Who is benefiting from land and water grabbing? Are these sales helping the local people since it is their land? Or are these purchases only concerned about foreign benefits and the population concerns of developed nations?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: ABC
Photo: Water Governance