Dark Clouds for Development

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.


For further reading on this developing story I recommend here, here, and here (this one is just pictures).

6 responses to “Dark Clouds for Development”

  1. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

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  2. Pelo says:

    Hi Tom.

    I found your blog from something you posted on “Life Behind the Wall.” You have written some interesting things. I am an American with an interest in China, especially now that it appears to be dominating the world stage as a new superpower. Can you please address the following:

    Do you have a lot of friends in the party?
    What are they like and what is the age range?
    How did you meet them?

    In your oppinion, how do the Chinese feel about Pres. Obama and the US in general?

    How are you adjusting to China?
    Do you plan to be there long?
    Have you visited to the US since you moved there?


    • Tom says:

      Wow Pelo, a lot of good questions there. I do have a lot of friends in the party, since most teachers are also party members. It happens to be one of the good government jobs that is very secure. Most of the teachers are fairly young, maybe 25-30.
      When Obama was elected, I had this exact conversation several times.
      Them: So Obama is president?
      Me: Yes.
      Them: and he’s black?
      Them: And you like him?
      Me: Yes.
      For the most part they are happy that he isn’t Bush, but sometimes the govt. criticizes him, and then they are unsure about Obama.
      I am pretty comfortable in China, and when I’m there it feels like home. It’s been almost 4 years, and I have about a year and half left.
      I have visited the US several times since first moving to China, and I get a touch of culture shock each time. On this most recent trip it happened when I walked into Bed Bath and Beyond, and saw choices stacked to the ceiling.

      Glad you are enjoying the blog, and I hope you’ll keep reading.

  3. Pelo says:

    Thanks for the resopnse, Tom. I will definitely check in often.

  4. Seven says:

    Here I quote: “China will simply buy more of America’s surplus grains, but this will cause a lot of problems for the rest of the world.”
    It indicates that China is making trouble for the rest of the world, which I think it’s not fair. If US sells food to China, why isn’t US to blame?

    • Tom says:

      My point here is more that China will be ok in a global food crisis because it has become so much wealthier, so I mean it as China is fine, the rest of the world isn’t. Not meaning to assign blame.

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