Food crisis: Global revolt against prices hikes in the making

Impact of war in Ukraine sees food inflation soar

Per Olsson, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (ISA in Sweden)

Global food prices are rising at a record pace and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is predicting even steeper price increases in the coming months.

In many already hard-hit countries, the situation is becoming increasingly critical. ”Yemen facing ‘outright catastrophe” over rising hunger, warns the UN.

Today, more than 17.4 million Yemenis are food insecure and an additional 1.6 million “are expected to fall into emergency levels of hunger” in coming months, warned the UN on 14 March (since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been waging a starvation and bombing war against Yemen, supported by US imperialism and Swedish arms).

Rising food prices were a major cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011, and many governments now live in fear of new revolts.

Protests against price increases have already taken place in Iraq, Sudan, Kenya, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Trinidad, among others. But also in Europe.

Impact of war

The war in Ukraine is a major contributing factor to why the price of food and other goods is rising. Ukraine and Russia are major food exporters. They each provide about 6% of global market share of food calories.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain. Ukraine is also the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil and Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizer.

The most vulnerable countries are Middle Eastern and North African countries that rely almost exclusively on imports to sustain their cereal consumption, and import more than 10% of their cereals from Ukraine and Russia.

The most at risk, excluding high-income countries, are Jordan, Yemen, Israel and Lebanon, writes the Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel.

As many as 25 African countries import more than one third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and 15 of them import over half.

On March 9, 2022, because of the war, Ukraine banned the export of grain and other food products, while Russia has started to ban grain exports.

About 80% of the wheat that Lebanon imported in 2020, came from Ukraine. Bread and other grain products make up 35% of the population’s calorie intake.

Egypt imports over half its sunflower oil from Ukraine, and the government had already reduced subsidies for sunflower and soybean oil by 20% in June 2021 in response to an increase in prices, writes Human Rights Watch on March 21, adding: ”Essential food prices were already increasing globally because of disruptions in the food supply chain caused by the pandemic and the conflict has added to that, according to the FAO. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are especially reliant on Ukrainian grain and seed oil, and vulnerable to food price shocks.”

Protests and strikes in Sudan

In mid March, the price of bread and transport was raised again in Sudan (the price of bread rose from 35 to 50 Sudanese pounds, or from five to seven euro cents, and the cost of transport rose by 50%), which was immediately followed by strikes and demonstrations against price increases and military rule in the capital Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.

On 13 March, railway workers Atbara, the town where the Sudanese revolution began with protests against food price hikes and withdrawn subsidies in late 2018, launched an indefinite strike against dictatorship and new impositions.

Sudan imports virtually all its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and because of the war, half of the country’s population is threatened by hunger.

I used to buy 20 loaves of bread for 100 Sudanese pounds before the coup (October last year). Bread alone now costs me about 27,000 pounds a month, which is like 90% of my salary” of about 30,000 pounds” said a teacher who took part in the strikes organized by teachers against military rule and hardship in mid March to news agency AFP.

Shortly before the protests in Sudan, demonstrations took place in southern Iraq (9 March) against price rises and the greedy traders who take the opportunity to raise their prices to increase their profits.

In Egypt, there is growing anger at the recent 50% increase in the price of bread and new price rises are a further blow to the population. ”The blow came after the government had already burdened the people with continuous price rises, freezing wages and the withdrawal of subsidies.

The government had nearly eliminated electricity, water and fuel subsidies and cut food subsidies in value and in terms of the number of beneficiaries. It was also preparing to raise the price of subsidized bran (baladi) bread after reducing its weight.” (Middle East Monitor, 10 March).

Protests against price hikes have also taken place in crisis-hit Sri Lanka, a country that is close to a state bankruptcy.

On Monday (21 March), trade unions in Indonesia’s capital staged a demonstration against the price rises and called for increased subsidies on food and cooking oil.

Albania has been rocked by recurrent mass demonstrations against rising prices and the corrupt government for more than two weeks. Protesters called the rising oil and gas prices “absurd” and “unbearable”.

In Tirana (The capital), protesters outside the Prime Minister’s office held a banner that read: “Down with the government of the oligarchs”, reports BalkanInsight on 10 March.

These events are of crucial importance, and pose the urgent need for the working class movement to urgently prepare internationally, to put itself at the head of new mass revolutionary movements, armed with a socialist programme to end impoverishment, war and imperialism. Join ISA today to help complete this task!