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Numerous causes, including climate change, behind record food prices

Food prices hit a record high in January according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), threatening the world’s poor. Rising 3.4% since December, the FAO stated that prices reached the highest point since the agency began tracking food prices in 1990. Given the complexity of world markets and agriculture, experts have pointed to a number of reasons behind the rise including rising meat and dairy consumption, the commodity boom, fresh water scarcity, soil erosion, biofuels, growing human population, and a warming world that has exacerbated extreme weather events such as last year’s heatwave in Russia.

Russia’s unprecedented heatwave and drought cut wheat production by almost 40%. Experts and Russian officials stated that the drought was consistent with climate change science, which predicts not only more frequent extreme weather events, but worse ones as well. The drought led to Russia declaring a rare ban on exporting wheat.

“Adverse weather effects are undoubtedly a primary driver of wheat production shortfalls and, with climate change, may increasingly be so,” an FAO report from last November read.

The UN says that they don’t expect a decline in food prices anytime soon.

“These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come. High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food,” said FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian in a press release.

Already, social unrest in Tunisia and Egypt—including the overthrow of the Tunsian government—have been linked in part to growing dissatisfaction over rising food prices.

“You are going to see a lot more of this [unrest] unless governments start addressing the fundamentals, such as climate change, water scarcity and dependence on oil. We need to create more resilient systems of agriculture for the future,” Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, told The Guardian.

The UN estimates that 1 billion people in the world suffer from hunger, but the current food crisis could push that number higher.

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