Asked what countries might be sites of food-driven insecurity in the near future, Brown points to Nigeria, a nation roughly the size of Texas that could have more people than the United States by 2050. Nigeria has ample farmland, but like most countries in West Africa, it imports most of the food it consumes, making it extremely sensitive to global price fluctuations. Attempts to cut the country’s longstanding fuel subsidies have sparked riots, and a steep change in food prices could do the same.
In general, countries in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa will likely be most sensitive to food insecurity. Food shortage and conflict can also be mutually reinforcing, as in the war-torn Central African Republic where prices in stores have skyrocketed in recent weeks after Muslim shopkeepers fled ethnic violence.
If there’s a winner in a world of scarce and expensive food, it’s likely to be the United States. America is the world’s undisputed food superpower, the Saudi Arabia of grain. Brown notes that Iowa alone grows more wheat than all of Canada. The United States as a whole grows more soybeans than China. And due to generous federal subsidies for ethanol, the United States isn’t even growing nearly the amount of food it could. Forty percent of our corn is going into fuel.