Food Resilience 'There' and Political Resilience 'Here'

We want to put a word in for a looming crisis that has been shunted to one side somewhat amidst all the other crises faced by the West - the largely but not exclusively El Nino-driven food security crisis.

First some facts from the UN (and you should go to the original documentation through our links) and then some implications. We know there will be great human suffering in affected countries but whether this translates into further crises for the West is unclear. We can, without being alarmist, suggest that we should not be complacent.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation put out an assessment that suggested that no less than 34 countries, 27 unsurprisingly in Africa, were in need of external food assistance. The causes were both human (conflict and incompetent governance) and climatic (the El Nino effect). Iraq, Syria and Yemen were marked out as seeing declining agricultural production because of conflict. It is not rocket science to see food availability as a contributing factor to Europe's current refugee crisis.

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] which provides regular and invaluable notes on humanitarian crises gave us a useful summary of the El Nino effect on March 9th. This tells us that El Nino has probably passed its peak but will continue to be problematic until mid-year. Britons may tend to look at Ethiopia for historical reasons but Zimbabwe and Central African Republic are in a far more difficult situation. The Ethiopian Government is widely regarded as having done a great deal for food resilience since the last food crisis.

Another recent news item in the Guardian (about Ethiopia) raised one of the main difficulties for emerging countries - that indiscriminate food aid can damage hard won food resilience if it destroys the 'capacities, assets and systems' built up slowly and with care by a competent administration. This is where that standard activist cry of 'something must be done' without considering whether what is to be done is not counter-productive becomes a matter of life and death to whole populations.

Put all this together and we have two types of food crisis converging in a perfect storm just as global wheat production is marginally decreasing: the disruption caused by widening civil and military conflict; and climate effects (short term and not to be confused with the very different phenomenon of long-range climate change). Fortunately, the latter may be restricted to this year and be manageable to an extent by competent administrations like that of Ethiopia but the former, of course, sees no immediate sign of effective resolution.

The implications, as we see it, are two-fold. The first is grimly positive. This year's crisis will be a testing ground for food resilience strategies and will show us within months who is competent and who is not competent to rule. The second is grimly negative. There is a risk that the push of hunger will (at a critical moment in European history) be added to the push of fear and the pull of creaking Western welfare states to increase migrant pressures on the West. And this, in turn, may have interesting political consequences.


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