If the Food Runs Out
IN SOME parts of the world, city dwellers take it for granted that there will be an adequate supply of produce on sale at affordable prices when they go to their local store or market. When there is, consumers may not give food supply and distribution a second thought. Yet, in times of crisis, people begin to think about what it takes to get food into their shopping baskets. If for some reason the food supply is threatened, the results can be disastrous.
Consider what happened in one economically troubled country in North Africa. As a result of the discontinuation of food subsidies, the price of bread doubled overnight. In protest, angry mobs rampaged through the streets smashing shop windows and attacking banks and post offices. Unrest spread throughout the country, and a state of emergency was declared. When, in an effort to quell the riots, security forces opened fire on the crowds, 120 people were reportedly killed and many more injured.
That the food supply can be a problem even in economically stable countries is shown by what happened in Britain in September 2000. Protesters against high fuel prices blockaded oil refinery exits, preventing deliveries from leaving them. Within days, gas stations ran dry, cars and trucks had no fuel, and the food-distribution system ground to a halt. Across the country, stores and supermarkets, which usually depend on “just-in-time” delivery schedules, had empty shelves.
There are various problems related to food distribution in the developing world. For a number of reasons—including drought, economic crises, civil unrest, and war—“inefficiencies and service breakdowns do occur with great frequency,” states Feeding the Cities, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “When they occur, even though the effects may be localized or temporary, it is the poor who suffer.”
Analysts believe that rapid urban growth will present “enormous challenges” to food suppliers and distributors. It is estimated that by the year 2007, over half the world’s population will live in cities. According to FAO, “supplying [city dwellers] with safe and affordable food will strain the food supply and distribution chain to the breaking point.”
Getting food into your shopping basket and onto your table is a matter of utmost concern. So just how secure is the food-supply system? Why are experts worried that it is being stretched to the limit? And will there ever be a time when no one will have to worry about where his next meal is coming from?
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Looting during a food shortage