Experts warn of escalation in global unrest as food prices soar

Violence, riots and human rights abuses are set to increase globally as soaring food price rises weigh on the developing world, according to the latest predictions.

Warning of further unrest, experts at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said food prices climbed by 3.4 per cent in the first three months of this year, compared with the previous quarter, and the global price of grains, sugar and other farm commodities rose at their fastest rates in 18 months.

Irene Mia, the EIU’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “Recent history and many studies tell us lack of food, linked to spiralling food prices, is correlated with a rise in communal violence, riots, human rights abuses and civil conflicts in low-income countries, together with a substantial deterioration of democratic institutions.”

Experts previously cited rising food costs as a key factor in the Arab Spring, and Ms Mia said they were one of the triggers for the social unrest in Brazil. She added: “A combination of factors – including an expanding global population, more expensive food preferences in emerging markets, higher costs for agricultural inputs and lower returns on agricultural productivity, and unfavourable weather conditions – has kept prices high in recent times and will continue to [do so] in the foreseeable future.”

Poor weather conditions across South-East Asia, Latin America and the US have been a particular problem and sugar and cereal prices were among the worst-hit crops – both up in price by more than 7.5 per cent during the quarter.

Brazil has been hit by drought, and with the country producing about a third of the world’s coffee supply, prices have surged by 95 per cent this year. Now analysts warn that rain in the region threatens to slow the nation’s harvest and reduce quality of its coffee crop, which will have a further impact on prices. The exchange rate in Brazil has also contributed to the wider food price inflation in the country.

The EIU report, commissioned by the chemicals group DuPont, identified the problems associated with “food security” – measured by the affordability, availability and quality of food. Drawing on data from 107 countries, the report highlighted the conflict in Ukraine, which is an important wheat and corn producer, as being part of the problem.

The EIU also stressed that poorer, developing countries would be hit harder than developed nations if food inflation continued to soar.

Ms Mia explained: “It particularly impacts developing countries with large segments of the population close to the poverty line, which spend most of their income on food. This could lead to further social unrest, especially against a backdrop of weak institutions and widespread frustration about government efficiency, poor quality of public services and corruption.”

Even in more developed countries, however, rising prices have become an issue, with use of food banks on the increase in the UK.

The only food products not to have risen in price over the period were meat and dairy. However, meat prices fell by less than one-third of 1 per cent and dairy is only down since February.

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