Food Chain Reaction: A Global Food Security Game is an international simulation based in the near future during a global food crisis. In November 2015, 65 thought leaders and policy makers from several countries came together in Washington, D.C. to participate in the exercise. Teams of participants represented governments, institutions, and businesses and responded to a global food crisis caused by population growth, rapid urbanization, extreme weather, and political crises.
The “game” attempted to simulate a plausible global food crisis triggered by “food price and supply swings amidst burgeoning population growth, rapid urbanization, severe weather events, and social unrest.”
With disruptions to the global food supply becoming more common and severe in recent years, we have a responsibility to better understand the drivers behind these events and develop ways of preventing them. If allowed to reach the crisis stage, the effects on communities, livelihoods, and entire regions can be profound.
The events of 2007/2008 that culminated in the Arab Spring, for example, pushed an estimated 130 million people into poverty and contributed to civil unrest in more than 40 developing countries.
Joffren Polanco stands beside his almost empty fridge in Caracas, Venezuela. (Alejandro Cegarra/For The Washington Post)
In the darkness the warehouse looks like any other, a metal-roofed hangar next to a clattering overpass, with homeless people sleeping nearby in the shadows.
But inside, workers quietly unload black plastic crates filled with merchandise so valuable that mobs have looted delivery vehicles, shot up the windshields of trucks and hurled a rock into one driver’s eye. Soldiers and police milling around the loading depots give this neighborhood the feel of a military garrison.
“It’s just cheese,” said Juan Urrea, a 29-year-old driver, as workers unloaded thousands of pounds of white Venezuelan queso from his delivery truck. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.
“This is savagery,” said Pedro Zaraza, a car-oil salesman who watched a mob mass on Friday outside a supermarket, where it was eventually dispersed by the army. “The authorities are losing their grip.”
About 87 percent of people say they don’t have enough money to buy food, according to a recent study by Simon Bolivar University.
“We have not yet seen the climax of the crisis,” said Luis Vicente Leon, director of the polling firm Datanalisis. He estimated that retail food outlets in Caracas lack about 80 to 85 percent of their usual products. “Supplies have deteriorated to a very significant degree, and it’s probable that things will continue to get worse.”
This year, Maduro decreed that food distribution would be placed under the control of thousands of local citizen committees that critics say are biased toward government supporters. That meant subsidized food would be diverted from the poorly stocked government-run supermarkets.
Over the first five months of this year, Venezuelans have violently looted businesses — or tried to do so — at least 254 times, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. The number of protests over food has risen each month, to 172 in May. Several people have died and hundreds more have been arrested in incidents of unrest across the country.
Two months ago, Maria Eugenia Rodriguez, a dentist and mother of two, began shopping online for products such as powdered milk, sugar and bread. “I buy Splenda from Amazon,” she said, referring to the online retailer. “Every few weeks I get a box full of staples from a courier in the States that arrives to the door of my house.”
In Caracas, shopping lines have grown so long that they have created ecosystems of commerce. Outside the Plansuarez supermarket in Caracas, vendors sold cigarettes and lemonade out of rusty shopping carts one recent day to the hundreds who had lined up. To cut down on crowds, officials allow in each day only people with certain numbers on their national identification cards.
Venezuela is being rocked by its worst political and economic crisis in more than a decade. A humanitarian crisis is taking shape in a country that has among the largest proven oil reserves in the world. With President Nicolás Maduro having neutralized the opposition-dominated National Assembly elected in December 2015 and decimated the judiciary’s independence, a negotiated, democratic solution to the crisis looks increasingly remote.
Given that Venezuela seems unable to overcome its internal divisions alone, external actors will be vital in influencing how the crisis unfolds. Yet the crisis has erupted at a moment when Latin American governments’ interest and capacity to engage in Venezuela are limited. While the Maduro government has fewer regional allies than his predecessor Hugo Chávez could count on, governments in the region are doing little to defend democratic governance in Venezuela. Despite much pro-democracy rhetoric and some mediation efforts, they seem content to let Venezuela find its own way out of the crisis—whether this means an abrupt collapse of the authoritarian government or a prolongation of its increasingly heavy-handed rule.
Simulated food crisis analysis
The simulation trigger: a complex interplay of seemingly unrelated factors. Droughts in major grain- and cereal-producing regions. Increases in biofuel production. Long-standing structural problems.
These events serve to highlight the critical importance of understanding the interdependencies within the global food system. Food Chain Reaction is a simulation game designed to help high-level decision makers better comprehend the cascading effects of their actions on global food security
By 2024, the scenario saw global food prices spike by as much as 395 percent due to prolonged crop failures in key food basket regions, driven largely by climate change, oil price spikes, and confused responses from the international community.
Prior to the start of the game (through 2019), demographic changes, climate pressures, and political crises had combined to threaten food security. The first round spanning 2020 – 2021, included lower than average global foods stocks, rising food prices, weather-related disasters, and instances of social unrest. The cumulative actions of players influenced worldwide conditions in subsequent rounds. In the second round spanning 2022 – 2024, players experienced the game’s food security crisis peak, followed by a tempering of global pressures in round three (2025 – 2027). The fourth and final round concluded in 2030 and brought players full circle to increasingly tight global circumstances, similar to those in the first round.
Institutional inertia pervaded the first round of the game, when global conditions were clearly trending toward crisis but had not yet peaked. Teams did not assume an action-oriented stance until the second round (3 years into the crisis), when they were faced with a crisis situation characterized by multiple extreme weather events, record low food stocks, record high food prices, social unrest, and areas of significant humanitarian need.
Actual Global Food price history 1990-2015 had a doubling of prices
There seemed to be almost no global response when global food prices doubled.
THREE SCENARIOS FOR MADURO AND VENEZUELA
There are three potential scenarios for how the crisis may evolve.
The first is that the opposition succeeds in ousting Maduro through a recall referendum by the end of 2016.
The second scenario would see the president hang on to power at least until 2017, even as Venezuela’s economy continues its downturn spiral and social conflict and repression escalate.
The third possibility is a military coup against Maduro.
The chances of the first scenario occurring are slim. To succeed in the recall referendum the opposition would need to clear several, prohibitively high hurdles. It would need to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the electorate (nearly 4 million people) to trigger the referendum. In the referendum itself, the opposition would then need to win a greater number of votes than the 7.5 million votes won by the government in 2013. As indicated, the regime is already resorting to myriad means to prevent the referendum from taking place.
The second scenario—Maduro remaining in power—is the most likely. The regime has control of all the main state bodies and institutional processes that it can use to derail any effort to remove the president. This includes the judicial system, which ceased to be independent a long time ago and has openly pledged its support to defend the Bolivarian revolution and chavismo.
While Maduro is likely to stay in power, the economic and social situation is unlikely to improve. Indeed, barring increases in the price of oil large enough to replenish state coffers, the economy will almost certainly further deteriorate. Living conditions for most of the population will descend to an even more critical position. A large-scale social explosion and mass outflow of Venezuelan citizens across Latin America cannot be discounted.
This may bring the third scenario into play. With formal, institutional avenues for change virtually barred, the only scenario that would oust Maduro involves the military. There may be an internal coup or a rebellion in the military. For the moment this remains relatively improbable, but if the crisis worsens it cannot be completely ruled out.
Aware of that risk, Maduro—like Chávez before him—has sought to tie the military strongly into the regime, handing key positions in government to leading military figures.
Brazil and Argentina have clear reasons to step in. Venezuela’s crisis damages the region’s reputation and feeds the notion that South America is adrift and incapable of solving its own problems. In addition, the leaders of other governments will look for cues from Brasília and Buenos Aires as they make up their minds on how to act. More importantly, both Brazil and Argentina have a moral obligation to help, after their previous governments actively promoted economic cooperation with Caracas during a period when Maduro and Chávez worked to dismantle Venezuela’s democracy. Without diplomatic support and economic engagement from Brasília and Buenos Aires over the past decade—which generated ample economic rewards for Brazil and subsidized oil for Argentina—chavismo could not have kept itself afloat or gained such an uncompromising grip on power. Realpolitik thinking should be inverted: Venezuela’s opposition is bound to take over at some point and is unlikely to forget the lack of pro-democratic support from its neighbors.
Our meetings in Caracas left us [Carnegie Endowment] convinced of the urgent need for a more effective regional strategy for supporting democracy in Venezuela yet pessimistic about the likelihood that this will take shape.
Nextbigfuture will believe that there would be coordinated global response to a food crisis if it ever saw any action at country, region or global level during these similar situations
There is food handouts when there is massive starvation in Africa and when the governments there welcome the help.
Countries have to build up their food reserves.
In the past like in WW2, countries met supply shortages with rationing.
What has happened before is what I would expect to see happening. Countries that would be willing to cooperate would already be well managed enough to avoid most food crisis situations anyway.
SOURCES – Motherboard, Carnegie Endowment, CNA Corporation Food Chain Reaction
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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