Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Future Food Crisis

Utne Reader has three very important articles justifying the comment that there is a food crisis in our future:

The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester brown

“The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of food scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.

The abrupt rise in world grain prices between 2007 and 2008 left more people hungry than at any time in history. It also spawned numerous food protests and riots. In Thailand, rice was so valuable that farmers took to guarding their ripened fields at night. In Egypt, fights in the long lines for state-subsidized bread led to six deaths. In poverty-stricken Haiti, days of rioting left five people dead and forced the Prime Minister to resign. In Mexico, the government was alarmed when huge crowds of tortilla protestors took to the streets.
After the doubling of world grain prices between 2007 and mid-2008, prices dropped somewhat during the recession, but this was short-lived. Three years later, high food prices helped fuel the Arab Spring. 

We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system. Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early 21st-century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study?”

Several conclusions from this article:

  • ·         Food prices are rising faster than incomes
  • ·         Crop diversity is decreasing
  • ·         Just in time paradigm is reducing surpluses
  • ·         The number of poor people entering the “real hunger game” is increasing
  • ·         “Each year the world adds nearly 80 million people. Tonight there will be 219,000 people at the dinner table who were not there last night, many of them with empty plates. Tomorrow night there will be another 219,000 people. Relentless population growth is putting excessive pressure on local land and water resources in many countries, making it difficult if not impossible for farmers to keep pace.”
  • ·         Global warming will exacerbate the problem
  • ·         Prices of food are exaggerated because of “Wall Street” speculation

Bet the Farm: Spinning Wheat into Gold by Suzanne Lindgren

“In 2009, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization made headlines when it announced that a billion people would go hungry that year. By way of explanation, the organization offered a deduction: The economic downturn paired with the rising cost of food staples had set the price of basic sustenance beyond reach for one in seven people around the world. But part of this equation went unexplained. Why was the price of food so high in a world where farmers, amazingly, grew more than enough to feed everyone?”

Nine Meals Away from Anarchy by Wayne Roberts

“Civilization is only “nine meals away from anarchy,” said the head of the UK’s Countryside Agency, Lord Cameron of Dillington. The Lord liked the statement so much that he repeated it in 2007, again to widespread media coverage, warning that on day three, “there will be rats, mayhem, and maybe even murder.”

Lord Cameron’s alarm resonates with a fear—that the veneer of order, complacency, and civilization depends on food being readily and effortlessly available, which in turn hangs on threads of transit routes that can be shut down on a moment’s notice. Chain reactions could be critical with frightening speed, thanks to both the short timeline from disruption to collapse of a logistics system, and the short fuse from civility to civil breakdown when food runs out.”

In addition, all three of these articles are describing different elements of a complex system that will experience “Normal Accidents”.

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