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by Adam Roach
Food Riots: The terrible consequences of global food insecurity
Food riots—the term is self explanatory. Due to shortage of food, citizens come together in the streets and violently protest which causes social unrest and harm to other citizens or to police forces. Food riots are caused by food shortages, the political economy, food price rises, incompetent food storage, hoarding, and many other causes. Food riots manifest in form of people looting supermarkets or shops, farms, and even homes due to the scarcity of food.
In this article, we will be talking about the history of food riots and how you and your family can prepare for any food crisis or global crisis to avoid getting entangled in a food riot. Our goal is not to scare you, but to show that even in modern times, we are not immune from situations like these arising. And when they come, they come quick.
Food Riots in History
History has shown how much the fluctuation of global prices causes the collapse of countries’ supply chains and their government which results in violent riots among countries. Here are some of the most notable food riots in history.
Bread Riots in France
Bread was the most important part of the French diet and one of the most notable riots caused by food insecurity in history is France’s infamous bread riot and grain riots. During the 18th century, the country was undergoing a devastating economic crisis amidst a rapid growth in population which outbalanced the food supply of the country. Then during an arduous winter in 1788, a great famine that caused widespread starvation emerged and resulted in rising prices in Paris which then started the bread riot. A year after, France was bankrupt and the noble families denied to pay their taxes while the peasant was unable to do so because the peasants were the ones heavily taxed by their government.
It was seen that prior to the emergence of the bread riots in 1789, anger has already ignited within the population of France during the earlier 1770s. This has caused over 300 riots and expeditions to loot grain, wheat, and flour were commenced because of the loss of inability of the population to purchase it. The bread riots were seen to be more of collective action against the French nobles and forced the bakers to sell the supply of bread. The riots were seen to be a long-term effect over decades of economic struggle in the country.
The French food crises is what also ignited the French revolution which eventually ended the French monarch.
Venezuelan Food Riots
Venezuela’s crisis of food shortage started in the early 1990s under Hugo Chávez’s administration, since the leader relied on importing food which used the country’s large oil profits. In 2013, Venezuela experienced the start of its economic collapse which was amplified due to geographic politics.
By May of 2016, Venezuela entered a period of famine and poverty which caused Venezuelans to experience food, electricity, and water shortage. This then urged the citizens of Venezuela to seek resources in Columbia. This caused over 123,000 Venezuelans to cross Colombia for food from 2015-2016.
Venezuelan food mobs have been occurring since then until now due to the food crises still being present in the state. Food markets have been ransacked which resulted in violence all over Venezuela. According to the United Nations World Food program, more than 10 million families are still facing food insecurity, especially amidst the inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis.
Despite of the support of the international community and the World Bank to solve Venezuela's economic problems, hundreds of Venezuelans have been killed then due both to the food shortage and the riots. The country’s government response has not been proactive in solving the demise as well through proactive ways but rather in an oppressive act.
Peru Food Riots
The food crisis in Peru started in March 2022 when farmers and transporters protested the lack of state support for agriculture and the significant increase in the price of gasoline. By April of the same year, shortages in the food markets of the capital of Peru have started which caused the Peruvians' unending protests that led to the looting of stores. Private properties were also damaged which was seen to be an unintended consequence as people just took advantage of the chaos to be more violent.
Living expenses in developing countries such as Peru have been rapidly increasing due to the worldwide economic conditions. This has also caused the inflation of costs of food and fuel also affected by the war between Russia and Ukraine. Strikes among farmers and transportation workers were ongoing amidst a one-month state of emergency in Peru as riots were occurring nationwide.
Sri Lanka Food Riots
Food inflation in Sri Lanka has been increasing ever since 2019 due to falling into the “Chinese debt trap”. This caused Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves to plummet and the government is unable to pay for its food imports. Added to these problems was the pandemic that caused its tourism sector, its main source of income, to crumble. The Sri Lankan public has undergone months of protests to dismantle the Rajapaksa dynasty that has caused their crisis.
Inflation that caused the fall of the national currency exchange rate has also caused the food prices in Sri Lanka to significantly increase. This has brought Sri Lanka to the brink of bankruptcy by February 2022 the inflation rate has become 17.5%. Protests started off to be peaceful however state forces started attacking the civilians which brought violence into the streets of Sri Lanka.
Food Riots 2022 and Beyond
Causes of Modern Food Riots
Rising prices in global food prices
The global COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war are two of the most prevalent factors seen in the collapse of the world’s supply chains and increasing inflation in most countries in the world. This has caused the continuous increase in global food prices that is bringing a lot of people to panic buy and food shortages whether it be in first world countries or in developing countries.
According to the World Bank, global wheat supplies have shown low crop yields in leading exporting countries such as Australia, Argentina, and Ukraine. Supplies in Corn are also seen to be tightened due to reduced crop yields and supplies from Ukraine and the United States. A factor seen in low crop yields is the significant increase in energy prices, especially in natural gas and coal in Europe which surged in 2021 and is expected to further increase in 2022. This has also affected the supply in the fertilizer market in early 2021.
What countries are most affected by the food crisis?
Amidst the current food crisis caused by the war and the COVID-19 pandemic the countries most affected are mostly countries in the continent of Africa such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen. These countries are also considered to be hunger hotspots by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). that face catastrophic conditions due to food insecurity.
Could Food Shortage Riots Come to the United States?
More developed and even first-world countries like the USA and Canada are not immune to the food crisis. We saw this in early 2022 when a rapid increase in food prices caused food supply shortages in the country which led people to panic.
But, this should not be the case for us and we must be prepared for any food crisis or even natural disaster. Planning ahead and not waiting for any crises to happen is what’s best for you and your family.
Do high food prices mean unrest?
High food prices do not immediately mean unrest for most people. However, those who are living from paycheck to paycheck can see this as a significant problem in their daily lives. This then can lead to social unrest. Food shortage, or when worse comes to worst hunger, can threaten social stability. This can cause civil unrest—protests to ask for accountability and response from governments are widely demonstrated. However, this can also bring violence and even war.
What can you do to prepare?
Preparing for a food shortage is the best answer to your question. By preparing an emergency food supply you can save your budget and your family’s safety by avoiding price gouging and risking your lives in food riots. You can start by listing down foods and items that are a must for your pantries that have a great shelf life and can last you and your families in times of emergencies. You can also search and lookup methods for preparing emergency food supplies and how much food you must prepare for emergencies.