Last month I blogged on how rising food prices in the Middle East might have provided the immediate trigger to the Arab Spring. Two reports, both dealing with the question of resource scarcity in an interdependent world, have since caught my attention and deserve further reflection.
The first is the Water Stress Index produced by a Maplecroft, a risk analysis and
mapping firm, to help companies identify the risk of water interruption to supply chains, operations and investments. The second is a discussion paper, Governance for a Resilient Food System, written by Alex Evans, from the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University, to stimulate thinking around Oxfam’s new Grow campaign.
The Water Stress Index rates 17 countries as ‘extreme risk’, with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa topping the ranking. Perhaps more striking is that India and South Korea are categorised as high risk and China as medium risk. Water shortages in these countries have the potential to constrain economic development and create social unrest if dwindling resources result in higher prices and limited access for their populations.
This explains why India, South Korea, China along with the oil rich countries of the Gulf states are acquiring water rich lands for agricultural purposes in developing countries to ensure the security of food supplies and decouple themselves from volatility in global food prices. This land grab, which mirrors the global scramble for oil and mineral resources, is taking place on a huge scale across many countries in Africa. In the emerging nation of South Sudan, for example, over one tenth of the land has been leased this year
Evans takes the analysis further by showing how a more globalised food system equals a more interdependent one too. The system is vulnerable to zero-sum games when governments’ actions are motivated by narrow, short term interest without regard for the knock on consequences of their actions. He writes: that “while such actions may make sense up to a point for individual governments, the overall effect is to increase perceptions of scarcity and the risk of more ‘resource nationalism.’
His analysis underlines just how brittle the global food system is and how inadequate the current multilateral mechanisms are for its regulation. In a world of food price volatility, climate change and other kinds of shocks and stresses, the challenge of building resilience in the food system is of overwhelming importance.
All of this brings me on to the new Oxfam Campaign, Grow, which I think excellent. It escapes the single issue silo culture that pervades much of the NGO world in favour of a holistic multi-issue approach – but united under the overall banner of food justice.
I’m not surprised to see Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Capetown publicly supporting this campaign. Food justice emerged as a core advocacy priority from a regional consultation in Nairobi involving Anglican provinces in Africa that was organised by the Anglican Alliance earlier this year. An Anglican Alliance resource pack should be available by the end of the month and will be a useful tool in helping to mobilise the Church, both here and abroad, ahead of this year’s G20.
It is already possible to indentify key political opportunities over the next four years where this nexus of concerns can be pushed. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy – it won’t. As Desmond Tutu notes: “Many governments and companies will be resistant to change though habit, ideology or the pursuit of profit. It is up to us – you and me – to persuade them by choosing food that’s produced fairly and sustainably, by cutting our carbon footprints and by joining with others to demand change.”