“A once-in-a-century winter drought in China contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer.”
I remember when that happened across the North and East China breadbasket provinces in 2009-10. I never got round to blogging it at the time but what struck me then was that it was kind of unusual in Chinese history for a ‘50-year’ - as in the worst for fifty years - drought didn’t turn into a mass casualty event.
That spoke well of Chinese government policy, in particular trade policy. China went into the WTO setting its agriculture tariffs lower than the amount allowed for, presumably with the aim of pushing farmers off marginal or unproductive land and into more value-added labour. This compared to the ancestral policy of, basically, stuffing the granaries.
And it worked: by the time the drought hit most incomes were high enough to cope with higher prices, government revenues were enough to buy emergency supplies and market & infrastructural networks were robust enough to get them delivered.
And this being China, there’s a stability management angle. There are land riots, pollution riots and abuse of power riots in China, but no bread riots. They get exported as leavening for a whole bunch of grievances.
Of course, the other shoe in the MENA food inflation issue is the pressure on commodity prices caused by quantitative easing in the US. How the latest round of that works out we’ve yet to see. Maybe it’ll be the background impetus to the Syrian rebels’ last heave. People go on about Islamist and moderate militias, but what both seem to have in common is that they’re full of poor young men from the countryside.