Commentary  Food is a basic right

Political unrest – caused largely by protests against soaring food prices in North Africa and the Middle East – has caused the prices of basic goods to fluctuate, making the global food market increasingly unstable. From Tunisians waving loaves of bread in the mass protests in January to Egyptians flocking to the streets in their capital, people across the Middle East and North Africa are exercising their collective power to demand that their voices be heard.

The global food system has on many occasions been subject to so-called “food speculation,” in which governments place often unjustified bets on food prices, causing prices of wheat and many other essential food to increase to artificial levels, threatening people around the world. Speculation can have disastrous consequences, as evidenced by the housing bubble, which caused one of the biggest financial crises of the last hundred years. Food in particular should not be subject to the market forces created by speculation pressures.

Governments must protect their citizens from being harmed by politicized food systems with sensible subsidies, rendering them less vulnerable to fluctuating food prices. Prices of wheat have risen far above $ 300 U.S. – close to the levels of the 2008 food crisis ­– greatly affecting countries like Egypt, the single biggest global wheat importer.
With wheat prices tripling overnight, people all over the world face the consequences of a globalised food economy, struggling to feed their children and themselves. According to the UN, food prices are expected to rise by forty per cent in the next decade. Access to food should always be treated as a right and the individual should not bear the burden of unstable food prices in a globalized economy.