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The Lurking Food Crisis
Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Tue, 11/03/2009 - 06:57.
The Lurking Food CrisisIn the US, a combination of biofuel subsidies and record rainfall has experts worried and prices may never be this low again.
November 2, 2009
The combination of pandemic food shortages and severe global economic downturn has nearly one sixth of the world’s population going to bed hungry every night, according to a United Nations report. An increasing number of experts believe that the greatest global threat is no longer war or disease, but hunger.
Photo: Last year, the price of rice increased by 68% in most parts of the world. The phenomenon which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has come to call “a silent tsunami,” became the biggest food crisis faced by mankind for decades. At various points, there had been riots over the high price of food all over the world. One of these is the widely publicized food riots in Haiti where people screamed that they were hungry. Citizens of the poorest countries in Latin America took to the streets. In Thailand and Pakistan, the army protected food stores to prevent looting.
As a result of the economic crisis, the World Bank estimates that 90 million more people will be driven to extreme poverty by the end of next year, and that 59 million more will lose their jobs this year. In light of rising food prices, these statistics are particularly grim.
In the United States, a combination of biofuel subsidies and record rainfall has experts worried.
In 2007, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s independent expert on the right to food, called biofuels “a crime against humanity” because they have sent food prices soaring, and created food shortages that leave millions of poor people hungry. “The effect of transforming hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tons of maize, of wheat, of beans, of palm oil, into agricultural fuel is absolutely catastrophic for the hungry people,” he told a news conference.
Despite food riots in several poor nations in the last year, President Obama has left the Bush administration’s biofuel policies intact. The subsidy of 45 cents per gallon is still in effect. Since May, U.S. biofuel refineries have set new production records every month. This year, almost one third of U.S. corn, amounting to 12% of the total global yield, will be diverted into ethanol for fuel.
Photo: In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009, a combine moves through a corn field harvesting corn in Springfield, Ill. In a report released Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, the National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts record yields for corn and record production for soybeans. (AP)
October 23 was memorable for meteorogogists of St. Louis, Illinois, when 1.91 inches of rain fell at Lambert Airport, boosting October 2009 into the record books as the wettest October in recorded St. Louis history. A similar scenario is playing out in East Texas and elsewhere with no relief in sight.
Dow Jones reported that most sections of the U.S. grain belt have received more than twice their normal amount of precipitation this month, which is causing unprecedented delays in harvesting the U.S.’s two most important cash crops: corn and soybeans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's harvest figures from October 26 said that half of the nation’s top-producing corn states still had upward of 90% of their corn and half of their soybeans standing in the field because of the excessive rain.
Photo: A combine owned by Doug Kleckner sits at the edge of a corn field, Tuesday Sept. 15, 2009 near St. Ansgar, Iowa. Kleckner, like many farmers, is getting ready to begin what experts predict, could be a record harvest. That was 6 weeks ago. Now many crops are still in the field due to record-breaking rain. (AP)
“You can’t find a year in USDA’s data (which goes back to 1972) on corn harvest activity that is as slow as this year [20% complete]. Period,” said Pro Farmer News editor Roger Bernard. The damage is so severe that some producers are harvesting what is left of their crops with a plow, instead of a combine.
In regard to the increasing global demand for grain, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote about how people in China and Southeast Asia are switching to animal protein diets as their incomes increase. He pointed out that it takes 3 to 5 pounds of animal feed from grains to produce 1 pound of meat.
To compound the problem, since 2000 China has lost almost 1,400 square miles to desertification each year. In the east, fertile land is being paved over for development. In its depleted state, the Yellow River flows into the sea less than half the days of the year. In some areas, farmers are having to drill up to 1,000 meters into non-replenishable reserves to find water.
The Middle East and North Africa have already entered into dangerous territory regarding food production. The region lacks water to boost its production, and currently imports 71% of its rice and 58% of its corn.
Photo: China now has more than 2.62 million square kilometres of land under desertification, twice the amount of the total available farmland in China. Sattelite pictures show that desertification is on the increase in the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, and Qinghai, and the autonomous regions of Xinjiang Uygur and Ningxia. Scientists in China have said that increasing desertification is costing the country more than US$40 bn a year. They blamed the increase on harsh envrionmental conditions and industrial activities. The scientists said that desertification is severely harming agricultural production, communication and transportation networks and even burying whole villages.
Prices appear fairly stable at present, but threats approach from many directions. The world could be one drought, or flood, or fire away from skyrocketing food prices.
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