Alicia Ellis, Ph.D., Director of the MA in Global Security Program in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University brings home our global vulnerabilities in food security. “The risk of food-related political crises is being exacerbated today by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted the export of staple foods, particularly wheat and other grains. It isn’t just the percentage of the world supply that is the important metric, it’s also where those supplies are going. In July, Russia pulled out of the grain deal allowing those exports past the Russian blockade in the Black Sea; over half of those exports were supplying countries in the Middle East and Africa most vulnerable to food insecurity: Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, among others. A lot of these areas are also suffering from prolonged drought. So, we’re looking at further squeezes on local farmers in these vulnerable areas, alongside shortages and higher prices for consumers. This generates tremendous socioeconomic pressures and compounds the risk of political instability.”

Dr. Ellis, along with her husband, Justin Perry were our latest guests on Rosie on the House on September 2 during the Farm Fresh hour of the show. Global hunger and geopolitics were not our exclusive focus but highlighted even more how important Arizona’s agriculture is to a global population and a global economy.

She and other Geopolitical experts also pointed to history for proof that a country’s population that’s hungry is primed for unrest and uprisings. One of the most recent examples of a people desperate for food was Sri Lanka.

Not just hunger but poverty, unemployment, social injustice, and more contribute to social unrest. But hunger tragically makes us grow desperate. Geopolitical experts at the New England Complex Systems Institute identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely.

Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam, in “The food crises and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East,” highlight this point in their abstract: “Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we also find an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.”

Time dependence of FAO Food Price Index from January 2004 to May 2011. Red dashed vertical lines correspond to the beginning dates of “food riots” and protests associated with the major recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.

We also talked a bit about Arizona agriculture’s emerging crops and highlighted Justin Perry’s business as a sustainable and renewable agricultural business. But to find out how, you’ll have to listen to the program below.