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The New Global Food Wars

From the Middle East to Madagascar, escalating food prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. Welcome to the 21st-century food wars, says Foreign Policy’s Lester Brown.

What’s the Latest Development?

According the United Nation’s Global Food Index, food prices have doubled since 2007. For countries that import staple foods like grain and rice, this is a major crisis. On the demand side, world population has doubled since 1970 and the rising global middle class wants grain-intensive products like beef on the dinner table. On the supply side, massive amounts of American grain are being used to make car fuel, removing millions of bushels from the global markets. While the farmer does not garner up images of geopolitical crises, food has, in many ways, become the new oil, says Lester Brown. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While the United States has a large domestic food market, keeping insulated from rising prices, but most countries do not. So when wheat and rice prices skyrocket, the world’s poor, who typically spend more than half their income on food, suffer dire consequences. And so do their political leaders. Massive inflation of food prices was an immediate cause of the revolutions across the Middle East and Africa, says Brown, particularly in Libya, which imports more than ninety percent of its grain. In fact, the silent mover of global politics has become food, he says, tipping the scales on unpopular leaders and inspiring land grabs for more crop space.


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