2011 has already set record highs for food prices, and that means another step backward for development. Now add to that news that China’s wheat-producing region (one of the largest in the world) is bracing for the worst drought in a century, and you have the makings for a disaster.
In 2008 the world saw record high food prices. They led to riots in some countries, and crime waves in others. My brother was in the Dominican Republic at the time, and faced a number of threats on his life, as desperate people looked for ways of providing for their families.
At that time I was in Longzhou and there were daily questions from the restaurant owners about the cost of goods in America. In one restaurant the menu price for dishes with eggs changed daily. Finally one of the Chinese teachers said that he was sick of hearing about China’s “harmonious society,” he just wanted cheap vegetables.
Now I’m not entirely sure about what will happen in 2011, but I can tell you two things that won’t happen as a result of this. One being that China’s people are not going to starve. China is rich enough to feed its people, and the government’s authority rests on social stability. As we have seen in other countries, hungry people tend to protest, and that is the last thing the Party wants. China will simply buy more of America’s surplus grains, but this will cause a lot of problems for the rest of the world.
The other is that China’s rural areas are going to feel the effects of these food prices far more than the city dwellers. The reason for this is that China is going to try to limit price increases on other food items (non-staples), so the farmers will be making the same amount of money from their cash crops, while the cost of staples (like wheat and rice) increase. City dwellers will also complain about the rising cost of wheat, but will still be able to afford a balanced diet because of the government’s actions.