Sunday, March 09, 2008

The future is famine , part 3

The daunting prospect of the pending food crisis has been blogged here and here before and todays Sunday Herald carries it as a special report .

The World Bank points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years. The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

The World Bank predicts global demand for food will double by 2030. This is partly because the world's population is expected to grow by three billion by 2050, but that is only one of many interlocking causes.The rise in global temperatures caused by pollution is also beginning to disrupt food production in many countries. According to the UN, an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of drought, deforestation and climate instability. Last year Australia experienced its worst drought for over a century, and saw its wheat crop shrink by 60%. China's grain harvest has also fallen by 10% over the past seven years.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that, over the next 100 years, a one-metre rise in sea levels would flood almost a third of the world's crop-growing land.
A recent analysis by the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, also pinned blame for the global food crunch'' on the accelerating demand for allegedly green biofuels and the world's growing appetite for meat.
Meat is a very inefficient way of utilising land to produce food, delivering far fewer calories, acre for acre, than grain. But the amount of meat eaten by the average Chinese consumer has increased from 20 kilograms a year in 1985 to over 50 kilograms today. The demand for meat from across all developing countries has doubled since 1980.
Another key driver is the soaring cost of oil, which last week topped $105 a barrel for the first time. As well as increasing transport costs, oil makes crop fertilisers more expensive.
According to the World Bank, fertiliser prices have risen 150% in the past five years. This has had a major impact on food prices, as the cost of fertiliser contributes over a quarter of the overall cost of grain production in the US, which is responsible for 40% of world grain exports.

If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die , the Sunday Herald forecasts . All very biblical in its prognosis yet it is possible for the UK, and the world, to feed itself, argues Robin Maynard from the Soil Association, but it will require big changes. He invokes the wartime spirit but he fails to understand the capitalist market system .

From the United Nations World Food Programme Greg Barrow explains it very clearly :

" There is food available in the markets and shops - it's just that these people can't afford to buy it. This is the new face of hunger.''

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