Food scarcity very often leads to food rebellions. Do you see this as a potential consequence?
The Arab Spring initially began as a protest around a food vendor being denied the rights to sell his goods. It spread through Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and accompanied a wave of change in food prices. One explanation for this was: if prices go up and down, people can wait that out. But if prices are steadily going up and up and up, there is a problem. There was a very strong correlation between prices going up and people taking to the streets in protest.
What is the nature of these protests?
First: It is not accurate to call these protests riots because this description takes agency away from people on the streets and presents them as a faceless mob, burning tires, yelling without saying anything coherent. But if you bring the microphone up close, you will hear that people are generally saying, well, look, we need a plan for affordability, better housing, better jobs, limits on the profits that organizations are taking. A rebellion reinserts agency and political knowledge back into the crowd.
It is important to remember that the way we produce food today is hostage to fossil fuel
What is the historic continuity of these food rebellions?
Two years before the Arab Spring, there was a wave of food rebellions caused by price spikes that accompanied the great recession. Perhaps the most significant rebellion was in Haiti where there was a change of regime that was sort of US installed, following decades of neoliberal rule. Some people called it the IMF riots – through the 1980s and 1990s, the International Monetary Fund brought in structural adjustment policies and the free market was allowed to rule domestic food price arrangements.
And you think this will happen now in parts of the world as well?
It would be very, very weird if we didn't see more of that happening this year. We have already seen it in Sri Lanka – protests that are both about the corruption of the government, its failure in economic policy and the high food prices that are also part of this failed economic plan. Sri Lanka pinned the hopes of the economy on two things: tea and tourism – the number two buyer of tea is Russia, and the number one and number three sources of tourism are Russia and Ukraine.