On the Breadline in Sisi's Egypt

by Neil Ketchley , Thoraya El-Rayyes | published March 29, 2017

On March 6, 2017, hundreds of local residents took to the streets of towns and cities in Upper Egypt and the Nile Delta after the Ministry of Supply cut their daily ration of subsidized baladi bread. By the following day, thousands were protesting in 17 districts across the country. In Alexandria, protestors blockaded a main road at the entrance of a major port for over four hours, while residents in the working class Giza suburb of Imbaba blocked the airport road. Elsewhere, women in the Nile Delta city of Dissuq staged a noisy sit-in on the tracks of the local train station, where they chanted, “One, two, where is the bread?” and called for the overthrow of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government.

The Humble Tomato

by Tessa Farmer | published January 16, 2015 - 11:52am

In early February 2011, shortly after the beginning of the January 25 revolution that toppled Husni Mubarak, I made a phone call to a friend in an informal area of Cairo. I wanted to check on her wellbeing, and was interested to hear her perspective on reports that some of the thugs hired by the government to harass protesters in Tahrir Square were coming from her neighborhood. The first thing my friend wanted to talk about, however, was the dramatic rise in the price of tomatoes. “Twelve pounds a kilo! Can you imagine?”

Starvation, Submission and Survival

The Syrian War Through the Prism of Food

by Brent Eng , Jose Ciro Martinez
published in MER273

On December 23, 2012, following a week of imposed scarcity, the Syrian town of Halfaya received 100 sacks of flour from an Islamic charity. The town’s main bakery started churning out bread, an all too infrequent occurrence since violence between the Asad regime and opposition forces escalated earlier that year. Hungry citizens began to queue.

Syria's Drought and the Rise of a War Economy

by Omar S. Dahi | published April 14, 2014 - 10:19am

The grinding war in Syria brings new horrors with every passing week. The death toll and the number of displaced people continue to soar, as more areas of the country are reduced to rubble. This month, two additional issues with dire long-term consequences have been gaining attention: the possible drought affecting the northwest and the entrenchment of a war economy.

Food Aid Diversion

by Steve Askin
published in MER145

For at least six years, top officials of the Somali government diverted US food aid from the most needy to enrich their friends and to feed the army fighting a long-running border war with Ethiopia. Throughout that period, the US Agency for International Development (AID) tolerated these food diversions which violated their own aid rules. In addition to enriching corrupt officials and assisting the Somali war effort, this food fraud subverted attempts to move arid, food-shortage-ridden Somalia closer to self-sufficiency. These are the conclusions of a 1986 General Accounting Office report which charged that AID knew about the Somali abuses and did nothing to stop them.

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Ethiopia and the Politics of Famine Relief

by Gayle Smith
published in MER145

Famine takes root when farmers lose their means of production. In Africa, drought and war have forced huge numbers of peasants to sell off their animals and tools and abandon the land on which they depend, thus bringing local economies to a standstill. Grain yields in Africa declined by one-third per hectare over the last decade; food production is down by 15 percent since 1981. One out of every five Africans now depends on food aid. Interest payments on international loans now consume $15 billion per year. The continent’s industrial base is functioning at only one-third of capacity. The incidence of famine among Africa’s rural producers has in turn brought national economies to a halt.

Alignments in the Horn

Famine Reshuffles the Deck

by Dan Connell
published in MER145

A decade ago, the Horn of Africa was the scene of one of the most spectacular geopolitical realignments in Cold War history. A devastating famine helped trigger the ouster of Ethiopia’s strongly pro-US emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. A military junta seized power in Addis Ababa and pledged to place the strife-torn empire on the road to “socialism.” Three years later, the US and the Soviet Union switched positions in Ethiopia and Somalia and the entire region rippled with the aftershocks.

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"Food Security"

published in MER145

As Egypt’s dependence on food imports has increased, so has the cry for food security. The phrase “food security” (al-amn al-geza’i) can have several meanings in Egyptian policy debates. It is usually taken to mean either “hedging against fluctuations in world food prices” or “increasing domestic production of food crops.” The Ministry of Agriculture has recently been renamed Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

Public Law 480: "Better than a bomber"

published in MER145

The US food aid program originated in 1954 as a means of disposing of costly domestic agricultural surpluses. In that year, Congress passed the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, known as Public Law 480. PL 480 enables food-deficit “friendly countries” to purchase US agricultural commodities with local currency, thus saving foreign exchange reserves and relieving US grain surpluses.

New Lands Irrigation

Promise or Panacea?

by Douglas Gritzinger
published in MER145

Once irrigated and lush but now barren, the Mesopotamian plain circling the ruins of Gilgamesh’s Uruk makes present day calls for food security via vast new irrigation projects appear shortsighted. Irrigation today suffers the same problems as in ancient times -- salt buildup in the soil, collapsing dams, irrigation channels narrowed and blocked by silt buildup -- plus some new ones, such as pesticide runoff. But irrigation planners figure they have learned a few things since Gilgamesh’s time. We can expect Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others to go on building new, expensive irrigation projects until they finally reach the limits of their water supplies. Reaching these limits should take only two or three more decades.

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