The Political Problem in Food Crises

When a food crisis hits the focus is largely on the lack of food. As I wrote, one of the most significant challenges in Chad is infrastructure. Academic Marc Bellemare provided a succinct explanation to the UK Metro last week:

Prof. Marc Bellemare of the University in North Carolina

Droughts, and the famines they cause, are rarely down to one factor.

‘Food crises rarely, if ever, occur because of an overall lack of food to go around,’ said Professor Marc F. Bellemare, an agricultural economist at Duke University in North Carolina.

‘Rather, they occur because of structural and political problems. Sure, food is scarce in the Sahel, which makes it very expensive.

‘But in most places, when food is scarce, food prices increase, which should in principle provide an incentive for traders to import food and distribute it to the areas that need it most.

‘In the Sahel, a drought sparked the current food crisis, but poor infrastructure and conflict combined to create the perfect storm of constraints to food imports and food distribution.’ Another factor is the growing numbers of people.

‘The population in some of the areas where droughts are most likely has almost doubled over the last two decades,’ said Professor Thomas Plümper, an expert in social science at the University of Essex.

‘The governments in the affected areas are notoriously bad at providing sufficient food stock to compensate for drought years and civil wars haven’t helped the situation.’

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.