The black horse


“And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living being say, ‘Come!’ And I watched, and behold a black horse; its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the middle of the four living beings saying, ‘A measure of wheat for a day’s wage, and three measures of barley for a day’s wage. And do not harm the oil and the wine.'”
The Apocalypse 6.5-6

This is not exactly a prediction of a global food shortage, it is more a prediction of an exorbitantly high cost of food. It speaks also of a tremendous disparity between the rich and the poor: while some people on the globe wrestle to buy enough grain to make a loaf of bread, others continue to enjoy “oil and wine,” the luxurious fare of the wealthy.

When it comes to the global cost of food, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), right now in 2016 the price of food is relatively modest; not stable, but modest. The reason it cannot be called “stable” is that the cost of food has proven itself volatile over the past 50 years. There was a devastating spike in the cost of food in 1974 that lasted until about 1976; there was another in 2008 that with some fluxuation lasted until about 2014, peaking significantly in 2011.

The majority of people in the developed world do not face life threatening circumstances with respect to securing adequate food, even when the cost spikes; we might complain and feel hard done by, but we can adjust our spending and keep on eating well. Millions in the developing nations face a completely different situation. When your daily income is less than $1.25 per family, and you are already spending virtually every cent you have on food, what happens if the price of food suddenly spikes?

This very week, Blomberg Business reports that long term, significant drought in sub-Saharan Africa is radically intensifying the problem of hunger for the poor there. They note that while “failing corn crops expand hunger risk across sub-Sahara region, [the] global grain glut [is] no help: Weak currencies make imports costly.” Here again, the problem is not the global supply of food, it is the cost of food for the poor.

While efforts are constantly being made to address such circumstances through the FAO and international aid, inaccessibility to adequate food supply continues to be very much the reality for millions of people. Any further spikes in the cost of food will exacerbate this problem, and may have significant ripple effects.

Following the spike in the cost of food spike in 2008, Lester R. Brown, a prominent thinker about global phenomena, connected the problem of hunger to the status of international, global security, in an article published by Scientific American. Here is a brief quote:

States fail when national governments can no longer provide personal security, food security and basic social services such as education and health care. They often lose control of part or all of their territory. When governments lose their monopoly on power, law and order begin to disintegrate. After a point, countries can become so dangerous that food relief workers are no longer safe and their programs are halted; in Somalia and Afghanistan, deteriorating conditions have already put such programs in jeopardy.
Failing states are of international concern because they are a source of terrorists, drugs, weapons and refugees, threatening political stability everywhere. Somalia, number one on the 2008 list of failing states, has become a base for piracy. Iraq, number five, is a hotbed for terrorist training. Afghanistan, number seven, is the world’s leading supplier of heroin. Following the massive genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, refugees from that troubled state, thousands of armed soldiers among them, helped to destabilize neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (number six).

Is the problem of the cost of food a momentary problem that the international community will successfully bring to an end? Or is the earth quaking under the hooves of the black horse of the Apocalypse, warning us that we are coming to the end of society as we know it, and that things are about to change? Click here to join the conversation.