OPINION

Wars over bread

The wars of the 21st century may be fought over water, but even before these wars break out we are witnessing violent social unrest in developing countries over bread. In Haiti and Egypt, at opposite ends of the world, people are bleeding and dying over bread shortages and increasingly expensive wheat and rice. A few months ago, Europeans were up in arms for the same reason. The French were protesting the price of the baguette and the Italians that of pasta. What do full-bellied Westerners have in common with the hungry masses of developing nations? They are all being hit by the rising prices of basic foodstuffs on global markets. The restructuring of agricultural production and profiteering are the main causes, according to the international press. Cereals are going down the same road as oil and metals, prices are determined on the basis of expectations and predictions, on the «psychology» of markets, which set their own demand, virtually unrelated to the real needs of billions of people. Wheat, a very real product, so intrinsically linked to the history of mankind, is so closely tied to derivatives and complex stock market products that it loses its material dimension. A series of transactions in Hong Kong or New York can bring a few billions in profits to a handful and starvation to entire areas across the world. The liberalization of the prices of basic foodstuffs hits the poorest countries hardest, such as Egypt, where prices can be seen increasing every day, but it also affects the lower-income strata of developed countries. This separation of a commodity from its material substance and its transformation into an intangible monetized value has become an issue of global geopolitical significance.