A large percentage of the world’s food supply is traded through 14 international trade “choke-points,” and are increasingly vulnerable to a variety of threats, a U.K.-based think-tank says in a report released today.
According to the report issued by Chatham House, 25% of the world’s food is traded internationally, with some countries so reliant on this system that any sort of prolonged disruption could have catastrophic consequences.
Climate change, terrorism or other security concerns, and local and regional politics are the three biggest threats cited in the report.
Critical chokepoints are places like the Panama Canal, the Straits of Malacca, and the Turkish Straits, where massive amounts of wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans pass through on a daily basis. As an example, around three-quarters of Japan’s maize and wheat transit through the Panama Canal and one-third of South Korea’s wheat and maize pass through the Suez Canal, Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and Strait of Malacca.
The Strait of Bab al-Mandab has been a consistent conflict zone, with U.S. and Iranian vessels routinely coming into contact. A U.S. destroyer recently fired upon by Houthi rebels was patrolling in the area.
While a temporary shutdown of one or more of these choke-points would not necessarily result in an Armageddon-style scenario, any disruptions could dramatically affect markets and destabilize economies around the world, prompting conflict, especially in economically disadvantaged regions.
Recommendations made by the think tank include investing in infrastructure around ports and waterways, and encouraging international cooperation through the U.N. in creating emergency response procedures among major economies in the world food trade.
The threat of terrorism at these choke points continues to be real. Just this month, two men were arrested for terrorist activities on behalf of Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Part of their alleged activities included conducting surveillance on the Panama Canal to assess the vulnerabilities of the canal and the ships passing through it.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense