Climate change + free market = food riots?
In the African nation of Mozambique, rising bread prices have sparked food riots in the capital of Maputo. The increasing cost of grain has added to an already-stressed economic atmosphere caused by price hikes of other necessities such as water, fuel and electricity.
According to an AFP report, the death toll due to the riots has reached 13.
In an opinion piece for the Observer, author, activist and academic Raj Patel points to the recent crisis in Mozambique as a sign of things to come when extreme weather events increasingly collide with an unjust global economic system.
Patel does not simply attribute Mozambique’s food crisis to global warming, but rather points out that when droughts, floods and other natural phenomena put stress on the produce of food exporters – the most vulnerable countries, who depend on these exports, will be the most pronounced economic victims. In other words, in a system where African food is grown in Russia, a European heat wave can result in riots in Maputo.
This may sound familiar. In 2008, the prices of oil, wheat, corn and rice peaked on international markets – corn prices almost tripled between 2005-2008. In the process, dozens of food-importing countries experienced food riots.
Scientists believe that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. The globally integrated economy based on comparative advantage and economic specialization – compounded by a host of other factors that affect social justice – means that poor, dependent countries are all the more vulnerable to such far away catastrophes. The Icelandic volcano may have left Europe bereft of fresh flowers from Kenya – not to brush aside Kenya’s lost income – but such regional events could also, as demonstrated by Russia’s heat wave, cause food shortages and deadly riots an entire continent away.
Read Raj Patel’s entire article in the Observer: