Guns & Butter

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Observers in Tunisia are wondering how much higher food prices can go before civil unrest breaks out. Supermarket shelves in the North African country have been bare for weeks. Staples like eggs, flour, rice and sugar are “almost impossible to find,” according to Middle East Eye.

If violence does occur, the victims will be additional casualties of the war in Ukraine. Soon after the Russian invasion, fuel-price spikes and food exports from both Ukraine and Russia plunged while Western sanctions sought to crack down on Russian trade. The two countries’ customers – especially those in the Middle East and North Africa who traditionally import much of their wheat through Eastern Europe – are now suffering, the Africa Report wrote. Russia and Ukraine supply around 30 percent of global wheat.

Climate change, drought and water shortages and disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic were already undermining Middle Eastern and North African agriculture production, explained the Council on Foreign Relations. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan also complicated matters. Starting in early April, families fasted and then ate large meals at the end of the day.

A group of scientists and others exhorted the international community to act or face the consequences of millions of people dying from starvation or suffering from malnutrition. “In the longer term, a global malnutrition crisis could lead to lifelong effects on education, diet-related chronic diseases and a decline in people’s capacity to thrive and contribute to their countries’ economic growth,” they wrote in Nature magazine.

Lebanon is an example of a country in crisis. Food prices had already increased by more than 1,000 percent in the past three years. Then the 2020 port explosion in Beirut damaged the country’s grain storage facilities. In late February, after the start of the Russian invasion, Lebanese officials said they had only one month of wheat reserves as supplies dwindled, National Public Radio reported.

The Lebanese government is now negotiating a $150 million World Bank loan for cash to buy more food, the Associated Press noted. It’s seeking a deal with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the country’s banking sector, too. Meanwhile, the financial system is under pressure, as food and fuel prices skyrocket. Wildfires haven’t helped the situation, the World Food Program added.

Syrians can also expect lean times ahead. Spikes in food prices have forced the United Nations to reduce food aid to northern Syria, for example, Al Jazeera reported.

In a globalized world, more guns can mean less butter.

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