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15. Food Riots: The New Normal?

Reduced land productivity, combined with elevated oil costs and population growth, threaten a systemic, global food crisis. Citing findings from a study by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, published by the Royal Society, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed identified the links among intensifying economic inequality, debt, climate change, and fossil fuel dependency to conclude that a global food crisis is now “undeniable.”

“Global food prices have been consistently higher than in preceding decades,” reported Ahmed, leading to dramatic price increases in staple foods and triggering food riots across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The crux of this global phenomenon is climate change: severe natural disasters including drought, flood, heat waves, and monsoons have affected major regional food baskets. By mid-century, Ahmed reported, “world crop yields could fall as much as 20–40 percent because of climate change alone.”

Industrial agricultural methods that disrupt soil have also contributed to impending food shortages. As a result, Ahmed reported, global land productivity has “dropped significantly,” from 2.1 percent during 1950–90 to 1.2 percent during 1990–2007.

By contrast with Ahmed’s report, corporate media coverage of food insecurity has tended to treat it as a local and episodic problem. For example, an April 2008 story in the Los Angeles Times covered food riots in Haiti, which resulted in three deaths. Similarly, a March 2013 New York Times piece addressed how the loss of farmland and farm labor to urbanization contributed to rising food costs in China. Corporate media have not connected the dots to analyze how intensifying inequality, debt, climate change, and consumption of fossil fuels have contributed to the potential for a global food crisis in the near future.

Censored #15

Food Riots: The New Normal?

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, “Why Food Riots Are Likely to Become the New Normal,” Guardian, March 6, 2013,

Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, “Can a Collapse of Global Civilization Be Avoided?,” Proceedings of the Royal Society 280, no. 1754 (March 7, 2013),

Student Researcher: Julian Kuartei (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (College of Marin)


  • Paul Meyer January 9, 2014

    Important as the factors mentioned, at least as important is the changes in the bankers’ manipulated futures market, wherein (life-preserving) commodities are manipulated for profits, making food an item for speculation rather than life sustaining. At least 40% of the volatility in food prices can be traced to unregulated commodities futures market.

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