MU Professor Says Drought Could Spark Riots and Deaths

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COLUMBIA - The lack of rain and extreme heat hitting Missouri is killing two of the world's most important food production crops--corn and soybean crops. An MU Professor of Agriculture and Applied Economics told KOMU 8 News this causes a rise in the price of the crops, which will likely lead to starvation in parts of the world.

The United State Department of Agriculture spends $1.5 billion each year sending food aid to hungry people in countries across the world. That amount of money feeds 33 million people. But according to Dr. Michael Monson, MU Professor of Agriculture and Applied Economics, the number of mouths the department can feed is decreasing.

Monson told KOMU 8 News the price of corn and soybeans increased by 30% since the start of the drought. The increase means the U.S.D.A. can now only afford to feed 24 million people. Monson said that leaves 9 million people without help, which will likely lead to deaths.

Monson said right now, it is impossible to estimate a number of deaths that will occur from the lack of U.S. crops, but it could range from thousands to millions of people. He said even worse, is the possibility of food riots.

"All of this won't really work through the system for 9 to 12 months...there are predictions for considerable unrest over food supplies in 2013," Monson said.  "Unfortunately food has been and probably will continue to be a political tool. There are bodies of research out there that predict food riots based on food prices. They attribute the Arab Spring demonstrations and protests to the high food prices in 2007 and 2008. Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, all of this was in some part is due to increased food prices," he explained.

Food riots would likely happen in countries where the majority of the country depends on U.S.D.A. Food aid. Monson said there is no other previous situation to compare the implications that will arise from the drought currently hitting the U.S.

Monson said The U.S. is the world's number one food provider. He said the drop in U.S. crops becomes life-threatening for other countries.

"Many people think of it as just affecting this area--they walk out their front door and see the dead crops and think Missouri is in the worst situation, but that's not true." he explained.  "The U.S. only spends about 10% of its annual income on food, but some other countries spend anywhere from 70% to 80%, so you talk about a food increase and this becomes life threatening."

Monson said, the main affect the lack of corn and soybeans will have on the U.S. is a spike in the price of groceries. He said beef, poultry, dairy, and corn prices have all gone up since the start of the drought.

According to Monson, rainfall in the next couple of weeks could save portions of the soybean crop, but he described the corn crop as "unsalvageable."