Rise in food prices sparks unrest

Sub-Saharan Africa has been particularly hard hit by the rising global food costs.

As international food prices have shot skyward, impoverished nations in Africa have been particularly hard hit. If the situation continues to deteriorate amid political turmoil and sharp inflation, unrest could deepen.

The World Food Program (WFP) says staple food prices have risen by as much as 40 percent in six months across parts of Africa. The Associated Press reports on the popular unrest in reaction to the increase:

The need for stable food supplies in Africa is especially serious, as lack of food in urban centers has driven hungry populations to riot. In February, riots hit Burkina Faso. Riots over food and fuel prices have also hit Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal in the past few months.

As prices across the region soar (a graphic illustration can be found here), the Ivory Coast has seen renewed unrest, reports the BBC:

One person was killed and at least 10 others injured on Tuesday as security forces dispersed demonstrations across the economic capital, Abidjan.
Anti-riot police fired in the air and used tear gas in an attempt to disperse predominantly female demonstrators who had set up barricades, burned tyres and closed major roads.

According to Al Jazeera the riots were the latest in a series of demonstrations against the rising food prices:

The United Nations Development Programme estimates that nearly 49 per cent of Ivory Coast's 19 million people live below the poverty threshold of $2 a day.
"Before you could manage with 5,000 CFA a week," Margueritte Ahoule, a protester in her 60s, said.
"Now 5,000 francs doesn't feed a family for two days."

On Wednesday, the Ivory Coast government announced emergency measures to cut food prices, reports IRIN, the press service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

This week, India also took drastic government action seeking to curb the socially dangerous food inflation, reports Arab News:

On the brink of a food crisis, India on Monday night banned the export of non-Basmati rice and reduced import duties on edible oils.

As the BBC reports, the Indian decision could potentially spark further price increases that could worsen the international situation:

The price for exports of aromatic basmati rice has also been raised to $1,200 per tonne to discourage exports.

The move could have an impact on rice prices globally as the country is the third largest exporter of the grain – a staple food in many countries.

In a tour of Africa this week, WFP director Josette Sheeran says that "the cost of our food has doubled in just the last eight, nine months," reports the Associated Press:

"We are seeing a new face of hunger," she said. "We are seeing more urban hunger than ever before. Often we are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it."

Ms. Sheeran called it "a perfect storm" hitting the world's hungry. She attributed the deteriorating situation to a combination of factors, reports the Los Angeles Times:

Meteoric food and fuel prices, a slumping dollar, the demand for biofuels and a string of poor harvests have combined to abruptly multiply WFP's operating costs, even as needs increase. In other words, if the number of needy people stayed constant, it would take much more money to feed them. But the number of people needing help is surging dramatically.

The Christian Science Monitor reported recently on the scope of the problem worldwide:

Around the world, governments and aid groups are grappling with the escalating cost of basic grains. In December, 37 countries faced a food crisis, reports the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and 20 nations had imposed some form of food-price controls.

And Reuters has documented the resulting unrest:

Anger over high food and fuel costs has spawned a rash of violent unrest across the globe in the past six months.
From the deserts of Mauritania to steamy Mozambique on Africa's Indian Ocean coast, people have taken to the streets. There have been "tortilla riots" in Mexico, villagers have clashed with police in eastern India and hundreds of Muslims have marched for lower food prices in Indonesia.

Yet, Africa appears more sensitive than other regions to rising food prices, reports Reuters:

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable: most people survive on less than $2 a day in countries prone to droughts and floods where agricultural processes are still often rudimentary.
For African households, even a small rise in the price of food can be devastating when meals are a family's main expense.
"People have been driven to destruction because they no longer know what to do or who to talk to," said Ousmane Sanou, a trader in Patte d'Oie, one of the areas worst hit by February riots in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.
"They understand it's the only way to get the government to change things. Prices must come down – otherwise we're heading for a catastrophe."
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