Category: Conflict

Resources on the Conflict in Mali

I have been taken by my research and teaching on food policy issues so far this year, so I haven’t had a chance to write anything about the conflict in Mali, where I have done some work which was cut tragically short by the March 2012 coup d’état.

The Center for African Studies at UC Berkeley, however, has a very nice collection of resources on the current conflict in Mali, which seems to be updated very frequently and which you can find here.

It includes everything from recent scholarship on Mali (including a link to my colleague Bruce Hall‘s most recent book, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960), Wikipedia pages, fact sheets, congressional hearings, blogs, media and journalism, background, statistics, as well as how to help.

Two sources which the above does not include and which are my personal favorites on the current conflict in Mali, however, are Tommy Miles‘ and Alex Thurston‘s Twitter feeds. Alex also has a blog called Sahel Blog. And in terms of scholarly research, Notre Dame’s Jaimie Bleck, a fellow Cornell alum, is doing really cool work on Malian politics.

Drought, Extreme Temperature, and the Consequences of High Food Prices

I wish I’d had a chance to write on this topic earlier, but travel to the West Coast for work last week and working on my research this week prevented me from taking the necessary time to read everything I could find on food prices, digest it all, and write something worth reading on the topic.

The crop season started out nicely this spring, with corn producers setting out to cultivate almost 100 million of acres of corn,  the largest cultivated area in 75 years. At the beginning of summer, however, things took a turn for the worst, with many areas experiencing both drought and extreme temperature.

Worry about Extreme Temperatures, Not Drought

Before anything else, I’d like to make one thing clear: Rather than drought, it looks as though it is extreme temperature that is the problem.

Indeed, according to my colleague Mike Roberts at NC State, drought is a poor predictor of crop yields, whereas extreme temperature — defined as the number of days for which temperature exceeds 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit — does a much better job of predicting crop yields.

The impact of temperature on crop yields looks like this (see the original research article here):

Corn Yields and Temperature (Source: Schlenker et al., PNAS 2009).

In other words, though there is a roughly linear relationship between temperature and corn yields from about 10 to about 29 degrees Celsius (i.e., from about 50 to about 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit), at which point corn yields drop sharply. Continue reading

Food Prices and the Arab Spring, One Year Later

I’m in Washington, DC for a roundtable on climate change and conflict at the Woodrow Wilson today, so I thought I should discuss this article in last week’s issue of The Economist which discusses food prices in the Middle East and North Africa:

It is sadly appropriate that Mohamad Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose self-immolation triggered the first protest of the Arab spring, should have been a street vendor, selling food. From the start, food has played a bigger role in the upheavals than most people realise. Now, the Arab spring is making food problems worse.

They start with a peculiarity of the region: the Middle East and North Africa depend more on imported food than anywhere else. Most Arab countries buy half of what they eat from abroad and between 2007 and 2010, cereal imports to the region rose 13 percent, to 66 million tons. Because they import so much, Arab countries suck in food inflation when world prices rise. In 2007-08, they spiked, with some staple crops doubling in price. In Egypt local food prices rose 37 percent in 2008-10.

Unsurprisingly, the spike triggered a wave of bread riots. Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco saw demonstrations about food in 2008. They all suffered political uprisings three years later. The Arab spring was obviously about much more than food. But it played a role.

The article then goes on to discuss the foolishness of food subsidies in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The problem is that the removal of those subsidies is fraught with danger — people come to take those subsidies for granted, and they tend to riot at the slightest hint of the subsidies’ removal.

I also wanted to share one of the background documents which was sent to today’s roundtable participants, a USAID report titled “Climate Change, Adaptation, and Conflict” (link opens a .pdf document), as it is a very useful review of the issues one needs to consider when thinking about the climate change–conflict nexus.