Behind Arab riots lie U.S. agricultural policies

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Sep 23 21:22:14 BST 2012

Behind Arab riots lie U.S. agricultural policies
By Thomas Kostigen  -  Reuters


Farmers harvest rice in El edoueh village, the 
home town of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, northeast of Cairo.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Money, land 
ownership and micro-enterprises are behind the 
riots plaguing the Middle East and North Africa. 
And standing another step behind are U.S. 
policies that disrupt people’s lives and darken rays of hope.
What’s occurred is the opposite of impact 
investing — where capital is invested with social 
enterprises that increase the quality of life and 
standards of living, creating jobs and a sustainable, local economy.
The backlash by the Muslim segment of the Arab 
world goes deeper than one recent, hateful film; 
it goes back to 1992 when small farmers in Egypt 
lost their land rights under a reform scheme 
implemented by former President Hosni Mubarak.
U.S. intelligence officials are investigating 
indications that al Qaeda's North African 
affiliate is connected with militants involved in 
the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. Siobhan 
Gorman has details on Lunch Break.
As I wrote in a February 2011 column : “Guided by 
what many say was U.S. and International Monetary 
Fund influence, the country’s small farmers who 
were ‘registered tenants’ became subject to rent 
increases, in many cases triple what they had 
been paying. As expected, these small farmers 
couldn’t afford the steep rent increases and were 
forced off their land. More than half of all 
Egyptians live in the countryside, and millions 
were forced into poverty. Moreover, Egypt itself 
became more reliant on imports.”
Since, I’ve dug a little deeper. As small farmers 
were forced into more urban and concentrated 
settings, Egypt obviously lost much of its 
ability to grow its own food. The U.S stepped in 
with cheap, subsidized agricultural products such 
as wheat. Staple foods such as bread are made 
from wheat. According to the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture, Egypt has been one of the fastest 
growing markets for agricultural products since 
2000, with imports up 300%. The U.S. is its biggest supplier.
It’s a great thing to provide food at cheap 
prices to people. But once a population is hooked 
on cheap food and then prices rise, as they have 
to their all-time highs, a shift in mood should be expected.
The solution is to reverse course. Investments in 
micro farming enterprises that would give people 
back their land and their ability to grow food 
(the types of initiatives that the Bill and 
Melinda Gates Foundation, for one, supports) 
should be heralded. We should be smothering the 
Arab world with opportunity. It’s no time to 
stand back and let people fester in the notion 
that we don’t care, that we hate their biggest 
religion, and that they are pawns in the hands of Big Ag.
We need to invest heavily in programs that foster 
social change for the better if we are to produce 
alliances with the Arab world and the Muslim 
population, the fastest-growing populace. To do 
nothing is to alienate entire countries and allow 
the hate, violence, and prejudice against us to grow.
As the bombing in Libya and the riots have 
proved, the Arab Spring has gone cold. Impact 
investments combined with diplomatic entreaties 
can make those in revolt warm to us.
There are plenty of impact investment funds and 
programs that support small farmers. Their aims 
should be directed more at the Middle East and 
North Africa. Moreover, as plenty of research and 
analysis show: agriculture is a strong growth 
sector. Investing the right way can quell unrest 
and bring about shared profits. That’s a much 
better scenario that the explosive scenes playing out before us.  
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