While rebellions and uprisings are caused by a variety of factors, one factor that often appears is the high cost (or unavailability) of food items-especially staple items like wheat (and bread), rice and sugar. The latest uprisings in the Middle East are no exception and food (or lack thereof) has clearly been a motivating factor in getting people into the streets. While Napoleon said “an army marches on its stomach”, it can also be said that much of the stability of a society rests on its stomach. A hungry population is often a rebellious population. While the world produces an abundant amount of food, food prices have been steadily increasing.
While some of the increases in food prices has been attributed to food speculators, some of it has come from what might strike some as an unlikely source: biofuel.
While the United States has long subsidized agriculture, this really picked up in regards to biofuel, which is fuel created from organic material (primarily plants). In the United States, corn based biofuel has enjoyed considerable government support and this has contributed to rising food prices in at least two ways. First, converting corn (and other food crops) to biofuel reduces the amount of corn available. This will, naturally enough, increase the cost of the remaining corn. Second, switching cropland over to growing for biofuel rather than food means that there will be less food available and the remaining food will be more expensive. Throw in some food speculation, an increase in oil prices (which impacts growing and transportation costs), and some crop failures and the result is the high cost of food.
The reduced supply and greater cost means that people who are less wealthy will have a harder time getting the food they need. Not surprisingly, the people of the Middle East were hit fairly hard by this due to the relative poor economic conditions (which have certainly not been helped by the selfishness and avarice of various dictators and their cronies).
In a nice bit of irony, the unrest in the Middle East has been used to justify raising the price of oil. This makes biofuel even more attractive and hence could spur on increased production of biofuel at the expense of food production, thus leading to even higher food prices. This, in turn, could lead to even more social unrest and social ills. Of course, this can also mean amazing profits for those with the foresight and resources to cash in on this situation. For others, of course, this can mean a time of hardship, suffering and even death.