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Archives: 2012 Conference

The following pages contain archived material from the 2012 Global Food Security Conference

Food Prices and Political Instability

Almost 1 billion people in the world today, most living in developing nations, are food insecure, undergoing periods when daily food intake is below minimum survival levels. 

As food prices rise, the poor are forced to allocate a greater proportion of their income to food purchases with the consequences of not being able to purchase medicines, have financial access to health care, have access to clean water and sanitation, or be able to provide for the educational needs of children in the family.  This can lead to social unrest and the potential for political instability.

Rising numbers of people are living in dense, urban centres (more than 50% of the world’s population now live in cities), as people move from rural areas in search of better conditions. This only exacerbates social unrest.  During the 2007/2008 food price spike, which saw grain prices jump by as much as 100% in a one-year period, there were riots in some cities as people realized that basic foods, like tortillas and bread, were either no longer available or affordable. When social instability occurs, food production suffers. Food distribution networks collapse and resources that could have been used for food production are drawn into conflict. People leave the area of conflict and become refugees. Large numbers of refugees can indirectly threaten political stability of neighbouring countries, if they are perceived to consume resources to the detriment of the local population.

Anger about food accessibility inflames other latent discontents within a nation, such as the effectiveness of government and its policies, rising unemployment, perceived relative advantages of certain classes or ethnic groups and even rivalries with adjacent nations.  Some of this anger may focus on distant and more developed nations, which are perceived to be exploiting resources in the area where food insecurity is rising. 

Governments may react in the short term by subsidizing local food prices, which then drain the government funds needed for investment in public goods and services, and increase government debt. Net food importing countries are mostly likely to find themselves in this situation. Food-exporting countries may place embargoes on products destined for sale abroad; this can cause further regional insecurity and political instability, as regular trading partners are suddenly deprived of food.

The combination of increased water scarcity, elevated energy prices, the diversion of food crops to biofuel production, climate change, and declining year-over-year yield increases are likely to mean increased food instability and general upward trends in food prices over the coming decades. Long term investment in infrastructure (roads, irrigation, water storage, port facilities, etc.), human capital (education, health, particularly child nutrition) and agricultural policy and research development are critical to long term food and political security. 

The Conference brings together different players from the agricultural sector, from producers to policy makers, and includes a breadth of subjects critical to food security: nutrition, food safety, water resources, climate change, trade, markets and biofuels, with speakers and participants from more than 25 developing and developed countries.  Through plenary sessions and cross-sectoral dialogue, the annual Conference will produce concrete outcomes that will lead to improving the availability of a secure and safe food supply for people suffering from hunger and malnutrition around the world. 

The Fifth McGill Conference on Global Food Security will start on the evening of Tuesday October 16 with a Public Lecture by a leading international dignitary, followed by two days of conference sessions that will examine the consequences of high and volatile food prices on societal and government short- and long-term stability. Through session question periods, the plenary session and cross-sectoral dialogue, the annual Conference is designed to encourage exchange of information and ideas and further understanding of solutions to global food insecurity.

This is an exceptional opportunity to be part of a high level, well recognized and well established international event on global food security.