Growing Food Concerns Worldwide

It was only a matter of time before growing anxiety over food supplies and prices across the globe induced action by nation-states and citizens alike. As 2022 motors along, concerns about the health of the global economy, the lingering hangover of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its recent return to China, and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine have come together to create a perfect storm. Food prices are going through the roof in a number of nations, and it was only a matter of time before citizens took to the streets and protested.

Over the weekend Iran saw a wave of protests break out across the country over cuts in state subsidies on food. To be fair, Iranians already have a laundry list of grievances with their government and economic conditions always serve as a barometer of the population’s feelings. It comes as no surprise to see Iranian citizens come out in large numbers to protest the subsidy cuts, as well as other issues. The swift and brutal response by the Iranian government, however, has raised some eyebrows around the world. Tehran’s readiness to clampdown on and make an example of anti-government protesters is an indication the government expects prices to rise even more in the coming weeks. With the cut of subsidies last week, prices on a number of flour-based food staples rose in excess of 300%

There are also protests and street violence over rising food prices and inflation going on in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. Those situations will be discussed in more detail later in the week.

Then there is the increasing worry over food supplies. India is moving to take pre-emptive action by restricting exports of wheat to create a safety cushion of sorts for its own population. The Indian government seeks to control rising prices and diminishing output due to global economic conditions and the extreme heat wave that has affected Indian wheat production. Predictably, India’s move has sent global prices skyrocketing and prompted the US and European Union to begin searching for solutions to improve food supply chains. Given the current conditions, Washington and Brussels need to hurry. At the present time, the situation worldwide appears fated to become significantly worse unless measures are taken within weeks.

North Korea Update: Possible Nuclear Test and Economic Trouble On The Horizon

There are growing indications that North Korea is moving forward with plans for its first nuclear weapons test in over four years. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise lately, though this has been underreported in light of the war in Ukraine. Last week, Kim Jong Un promised to continue development of its nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible speed.” This has prompted concerns that a test will be scheduled to disrupt the late May visit of US President Joe Biden to South Korea. Chinese and South Korea diplomats met in Seoul on Tuesday with China pledging to play a ‘constructive role’ in attempting to get North Korea to resume negotiations.

South Korea, with a new administration taking power on 10 May, is quite interested in deterring North Korea from escalating the situation. One element that appears to be coaxing the North along the slippery path it’s on at present is Russia. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have forged close ties over the years and the North is one of the few nations supporting Russia in its war without misgivings. In exchange for this loyalty, Russia could return the favor by blocking a UN effort to impose severe sanctions on North Korea if it does move forward with a nuclear test.

Having said this, it must be mentioned that the global economic fallout from Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in China could hit the North Korean economy especially hard. Supply chain issues now coming into play will exacerbate food shortages. Inflation will also play a greater role. Food prices in North Korea often mirror global prices. With food prices rising around the world, the North’s prices are expected to do the same in the coming weeks, taking the country’s economic issues from bad to worse in the process.

China Advises Its Citizens To Stockpile Daily Necessities

The Chinese government is advising its citizens to maintain adequate stocks of basic necessities on hand as the winter season approaches. The Ministry of Commerce released the advisory on Monday, 1 November and it was not long before many Chinese social media users were playing the speculation game. The latest COVID-19 outbreaks and unusually heavy rainfall amounts have sparked concerns about a looming supply shortage. Some social media users believe the rising tensions with Taiwan are the reason for the advisory. There have been reports of panic buying as well, with rice, cooking oil and salt being the main products sought, and wisely so. Chinese media outlets have also published a list of recommended goods to store including instant noodles, vitamins, flashlights and a battery-powered radio. The alarm brought on by the advisory prompted state media to step in and attempt to calm the growing concerns. Economic Daily, a Communist Party-backed newspaper, told citizens on its website that the advisory’s purpose was to make certain people were prepared in the event of another COVID lockdown. Local authorities are being encouraged to make certain supply and prices remain stable through the coming winter months.

Speculation aside, there’s no doubt that China’s domestic supply problems run deeper than Beijing is willing to let on. Earlier bouts of extreme weather have driven concerns about food supplies. Shandong, the nation’s largest vegetable producing region, has suffered heavy flooding in September and October. Prices for some vegetables grown in this area have doubled in recent weeks. Then there are China’s continuing energy issues, which are far from being alleviated. A combination of high energy and rising food prices runs a risk of creating a storm of domestic unrest. Beijing is eager to avoid this scenario from becoming a reality for obvious reason.