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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Tunisia

Food security is making the headlines again.  On Thursday the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index showed global food prices at the highest level since records began in 1990. Up for the seventh month in a row, prices are well above the 2008 levels which sparked riots, and the FAO noted they were likely to rise further. This is one of the reasons Nicolas Sarkozy, taking over the rotating Presidency of the G20 for 2011, put addressing commodity prices including food as one of the priorities on his agenda.  The World Economic Forum in Davos discussed growing food security challenges, with World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick suggesting ahead of the meeting that the biggest challenge facing the developing world in 2011 is the risk of a big boost in food prices.  With the events unfolding in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond it is clear that this warning was very prescient.  While the fundamental reasons for the civil unrest are many, increasing food prices combined with increasing poverty have played a role.  The question is where to from here in terms of future food security?  Can we actually do anything to rebalance supply and ever-increasing demand?  What are the implications for business?

Since the end of last year it has become more and more obvious that the world is facing greater challenges in terms of security of basic needs: food, water and electricity.  As the world population hurtles towards the 7 billion mark in the next year and possibly over 9 billion by 2050, the pressures will increase – but it’s not just population which is impacting our ability to fulfill basic needs.  Natural disasters, which the UN estimates cost the world US$ 109 billion in 2010, have flooded arable land, damaged crops and more.  Climate change is leading to desertification of large parts of the world and more volatile weather conditions impacting crops.  High levels of waste in the food supply chain – estimates suggest between 30% and 50% of food grown – mean we grow much more than we need.

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This may be one of the weeks that redefines the shape of the world, although the impact is as yet extremely uncertain.  The civil unrest that started in Tunisia, toppling the government, has spread rapidly and often violently across North Africa and the Middle East.  Protests in Yemen this week have called for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. There have also been protests in Algeria, Sudan and Jordan, which may yet gain momentum. But the focus of the world has been on the growing civil unrest in Egypt as thousands of protesters call for the departure of President Mubarak after 30 years of rule. It’s no longer just the better educated but also the very poor. Unlike the rapidly developing economies of Asia and Latin America, the Egyptians have been becoming worse off. Prices of basic necessities have increased, unemployment rates are very high, particularly among the young who make up a substantial part of the country’s population, and Egypt has weak ties to take advantage of globalization.  Add in an authoritarian regime which has repressed basic human rights over decades, and religious tensions. The mix has proven explosive – and it is a recipe echoed across the region, which don’t forget controls the majority of the world’s oil reserves, causing huge concerns globally about economic and geopolitical destabilization.  With all this going on, why have so many of the world’s “great and good” been paying vast amounts to spend the week up a mountain in Switzerland?

Davos Man, and Woman (more were mandated by the organizers), convened under the headline “Shared Norms for the New Reality” this year.  Announcing the theme, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said it: “Reflects the foremost concern of many leaders today - namely, living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values and principles that undermines public trust in leadership as well as future economic growth and political stability.” Topics for debate included: 1. Responding to the New Reality; 2. The Economic Outlook and Defining Policies for Inclusive Growth; 3. Supporting the G20 Agenda; 4. Building a Risk Response Network.  A good agenda when looked at from the perspective of the elite group of politicians, financiers and business leaders gathered in Davos, and one which reflects some of the critical issues facing a two-track economic world including financial reforms, trade, sovereign debt and social responsibility.

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