The New Rules: The Changing Food Security Equation

The New Rules: The Changing Food Security Equation

While the world doesn't yet face a food crisis on par with the summer of 2008, it's clear that the drought currently affecting the Black Sea trio of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- all big-time global exporters of wheat and barley -- has suddenly made food inflation a primary threat to the somewhat fragile and decidedly uneven global economic recovery. At the very least, it reminds us just how tight global food markets are, due to the contradictory combination of rising middle-class demand and the enduring commitment by brittle governments around the world to keep prices low -- at whatever the cost.

A case in point is the Middle East and North Africa, which currently account for one-quarter of global cereal imports. In Egypt, where the price of bread determines social stability, it's no hyperbole to say that Russia's drought could, under the right conditions, trigger President Hosni Mubarak's fall. Fortunately for the region's many dictators, America stands poised to play the grain equivalent of Saudi Arabia vis à vis oil, easily filling the gap with bumper crops across the board.

While many U.S. wheat farmers are now deciding whether or not to risk an additional planting this year, fearing a glut if Russia's drought lifts in time for the fall planting there, these dynamics give some sense of the larger reality: If the Persian Gulf has the world -- and more specifically "rising" Asia -- over an oil barrel, then the U.S. has that oil-rich region, which imports 85 to 90 percent of its food, over a bread basket.

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