As many might be able to presume, the Middle East is not a region that possesses an abundant amount of land that is desirable for agricultural use. The lack of arable land can hold the potential to be a predicament for any country that may find they are lacking that resource. To make matters worse, the climate does not make growing food an easy task. Pair the climate with the normalcy of water scarcity in the region and you get an extremely difficult time for a place that is home to such a plethora of people.
In 2008, places such as Africa, the Middle East and Latin America went through a devastating time when the world suffered from a food crisis that set off sky-rocketing prices that caused riots and unrest. Coming out of that experience it was well known that in the countries that do not possess fertile land themselves they suffer heavily because they are dependent on others to fulfill their needs. The World Bank stated in 2009 that most Arab countries “import at least 50% of the food calories they consume.” When thinking about that statistic, it is staggering to think of the dependency that exists for such a basic need. So when droughts occur in small towns in Northern Ohio, sure it may be an indicator that our produce prices may be on the rise, but it cannot be overlooked at how this may severely affect those countries that find themselves reliant.
This past summer, farmers across the country were not sleeping easy at night. Droughts were a reoccurring theme across the states that managed to damage a great amount of our crops. As harvest season is currently coming to an end, time has yet to tell the severity of the issue, but without-a-doubt the prices are on the rise. This drought has been said to be one of the most extensive and severe droughts we have seen in the past 25 years that has directly affected U.S. agriculture. This damage will be felt at home, but what will the aftermath look like across seas?
When the global community found themselves in a similar situation four short years ago, there were actions taken that would only make matters worse today. Countries such as Russia, Argentina, Ukraine and India all stockpiled their own grain yields. They cut off their exports that drove prices even further skyward. This creates a true dilemma for countries such as those in the Arab regions due to their inability to produce on their own. In order to prevent this scenario from repeating, they have taken steps to alleviate some of their dependencies.
Some of the wealthier countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have invested in purchasing arable land in foreign countries for the sole use of producing food for their national markets. Their intentions are understood; if they cannot produce the food on their own land in their own country due to uncontrollable factors, purchasing land where they can meet those needs seems justified. But what happens when that land that is bought to produce exports is now harming the substance farmers and small landowners that previous benefitted from that land? According to Bryan King who wrote on the agricultural issue,
“In other words, by attempting to ensure their own food security by acquiring dedicated foreign farm holdings, some nations are creating new food shortage issues in other parts of the world.”
So now where does this leave us? In countries such as Yemen, who has to import a majority of its food due to the scarcity of arable land found, 22% of their people are suffering who can’t feed themselves daily. Even those countries who are capable of producing their own corn may find themselves suffering similarly. Though they are not dependent upon importing their produce, they will be forced into the higher global prices, making suffering inevitable.
As the harvest comes in and the effects may start to be felt here at home, it is vital as a global citizen to realize that others are feeling repercussions from this food crisis as well. But as we look at the tragedy, how can this be prevented, alleviated, or helped in the future? Those uncontrollable factors such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes can only be worried about to an extent because they cannot be planned. But what about those efforts such as buying foreign land that have been implemented to lessen some of the pain, but create more in turn? Where do you see this crisis headed?