Tag: food crisis

Too many bodies? Communicating the population question

The question of human over-population of our planet seems to resurface every few decades, driven by fears that there are too many people to feed, clothe and shelter, or that the sheer volume of human beings working, travelling and polluting is causing environmental damage. But the persuasiveness of such claims is weakened empirically and normatively. In terms of facts, it does not help the over-population claimants that every time the population question is raised, humanity seems to deal with the problem. People do find food, clothing and shelter. And in terms of values, the notion of limiting or reducing the number of human beings appears a slippery slope to calls for coercion and perhaps eugenics in the name of ‘the greater good’. But in 2010 the question is being asked again.

At Royal Holloway last night, Professor Diana Coole presented early analyses from her new three year project, Too many bodies? The politics and ethics of the world population question. She is interested in why the question is re-emerging now and why it is in developed countries that calls are loudest for something to be done, according to her analysis of media and policy documents. Size of world population seems to have causal links to the development of climate change, water and food security, managing waste, and preserving diversity. The Royal Society’s working group People on the Planet raises this explicitly, as did the Stern Report – though neither recommended any proposals to intervene in human population numbers. As Coole argued, the tools we have for managing demography – fertility, mortality and migration – are all political minefields. Governments quietly manage birthrates through tax and welfare regimes and campaigns on family planning, but few policymakers in liberal democracies would explicitly institute a one-child or two-child policy for families.
It is interesting that Coole, a critical theorist in the continental tradition, should be asking why the population question remains a taboo. Materiality, vital matter, the non-human and post-human futures have all been on the critical theory agenda recently, in IR and more broadly. People are not the only things that matter. This scholarly focus parallels public-political claims for ‘sustainability’ in which the maintenance of ecosystems are considered more pressing than the continuation of humanity and certainly more pressing than economic growth. Might it be that a new strategic narrative will be formed and brought to bear on policy, a ‘smaller, better humanity’ narrative? Population projection statistics are ambiguous and can easily be used to support Malthusian stories. And Coole’s project may unpick the factual and normative discourses that silence talk of the population question, so that the better-smaller narrative — if that is what is being formulated — can be heard.

(Cross-posted from https://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Marc Bowden says that Somalia is in the grips of a worsening food crisis.

Somalia faces a worse situation than Darfur, Mr Bowden says.

Contributing to the crisis are fighting between rival militias, successive droughts, sharply rising food prices and a collapse of the Somali currency.

Mr Bowden says that during the course of the next three months the number of people needing emergency food relief will climb by about one million from the current 2.5m.

Aid agencies trying to get food into Somalia face extreme difficulties.

The task is made more difficult because fighting and violence has displaced a million Somalis from their homes.

Mark Bowden says Somalia has become one of the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises.

Somalia’s recent history is, indeed, a sorry one: political collapse in the wake of the Cold War, a botched humanitarian intervention, Islamicist forces bringing harsh rule and some stability in the south–but also a new stage of civil war, US-backed Ethiopian intervention, and now a complete breakdown in food supplies and distribution.

Some consider Somalia a critical front in the “war on terror,” but I doubt that’s enough, in the shadow of 1992-1993, to motivate concerted action by the international community.


Globalization and the new world food crisis

Today’s Washington Post has an excellent story that I strongly recommend on recent rise in food prices worldwide and resulting international upheaval.

Its the exact story I would assign to my World Politics class– an example of how this thing we call Globalization brings international trade, poverty, financial speculation, climate change, domestic farm subsidies, energy prices, and environmentalism together for a perfect storm of rising food prices around the world, leading to massive world hunger, destabilizing governments, and turning much of world politics upside down. Moreover, this is a story that you can watch and feel, as you watch the price of bread at the grocery store climb up and up.

the [commodity] traders discerned an ominous snowball effect — one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause American executives at Sam’s Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice….

“We have never seen anything like this before,” Voge said. “Prices are going up more in one day than they have during entire years in the past. But no matter the price, there always seems to be a buyer. . . . This isn’t just any commodity. It is food, and people need to eat.”

And that’s what makes this such a slow-moving tragedy–when oil prices rise, people can not drive and still eek out a way to survive. When food prices rise, its much, much harder to not eat.

Today’s article investigates the broad causes that led to the crisis(graphical depiction here).

The root cause of price surges varies from crop to crop. But the crisis is being driven in part by an unprecedented linkage of the food chain.

A big reason for higher wheat prices, for instance, is the multiyear drought in Australia, something that scientists say may become persistent because of global warming. But wheat prices are also rising because U.S. farmers have been planting less of it, or moving wheat to less fertile ground. That is partly because they are planting more corn to capitalize on the biofuel frenzy.

This year, at least a fifth and perhaps a quarter of the U.S. corn crop will be fed to ethanol plants. As food and fuel fuse, it has presented a boon to American farmers after years of stable prices. But it has also helped spark the broader food-price shock….

The global food trade never became the kind of well-honed machine that has made the price of manufactured goods such as personal computers and flat-screen TVs increasingly similar worldwide. With food, significant subsidies and other barriers meant to protect farmers — particularly in Europe, the United States and Japan — have distorted the real price of food globally, economists say, preventing the market from normal price adjustments as global demand has climbed.

To recap, this implicates:

  • Global Warming causing a drought
  • High oil prices, raising costs for farmers, shippers, and sellers
  • Ethanol and bio-fuels (meant to reduce the first two) sucking corn off the market
  • Farm subsidies distorting food prices
  • Lack of open markets
  • Development in large countries (China, India) leading to increased meat consumption
  • Integrated global commodities markets, allowing for speculation

And there are real political consequences to be felt. Governments toppled, people rioting, starvation–and this is only what we’ve seen so far. Far more is sure to come.

Readers are encouraged to follow the rest of the Post’s series, which will continue throughout this week.


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