Viridian Note 00412: Hunger
- Key concepts
- grain harvest shortfalls, climate
change, mass starvation, price rises, Lester Brown
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- Grim, scary,
involves one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
There are no new entries in the Viridian
Aromatizer Contest even though it ends in
three days. Last chance, people!
Disasters? Hey, California is fully briefed,
and has corporate sponsorship, too!
Post-consumer alteration gets re-defined
as "designer fanfic."
I'm heading for New York and Boston, pronto.
Drop on by.
Tuesday, May 11th – In New York
7:30 PM Talk & Signing
Barnes & Noble #2017
396 Ave. of the Americas (at 8th St.)
New York, NY 10011
Tuesday, May 12th – In Boston
7:00 PM Talk & Signing
400 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Sq.
Boston, MA 02238
Eco-Economy Update 2004-9
For Immediate Release
Copyright Earth Policy Institute 2004
May 5, 2004
WORLD FOOD SECURITY DETERIORATING
Food Crunch in 2005 Now Likely
Lester R. Brown
Closing the gap in the world grain harvest this year
following four consecutive grain harvest shortfalls,
each larger than the one before, will not be easy.
The grain shortfall of 105 million tons in 2003 is
easily the largest on record, amounting to 5 percent
of annual world consumption of 1,930 million tons.
The four harvest shortfalls have dropped world
carryover stocks of grain to the lowest level in
30 years, amounting to only 59 days of consumption.
Wheat and corn prices are at 7-year highs.
Rice prices are at 5-year highs. (See data
(((Yum! Carbs! Globesity crisis and famine at
the same historical instant!)))
Can the world's farmers close the gap this year?
In addition to the usual uncertainties farmers face,
they must now contend with two newer trends –
falling water tables and rising temperatures.
If there is another large shortfall, grain prices
will continue the rise of recent months,
driving up food prices worldwide.
The production gain we need this year is huge.
To start, we need to increase world grain output
enough in 2004 to eliminate last year's
shortfall of 105 million tons.
In addition, we need 15 million tons to feed the
74 million people who will be added to world
population this year. With the grain left in the bin
as this year's harvest begins at the dangerously low
level of 59 days of consumption, we also need to
rebuild to the 70-day level that is considered
the minimum needed for food security. If we try to do
just half of that rebuilding this year, going up
to 65 days of consumption, we will need another
30 million tons.
Combining the estimated increases of 35 million
tons for wheat, 12 million tons for rice, 10 million
tons for corn, and 3 million tons for other
grains gives an increase of 60 million tons over
last year's harvest. This is an improvement, but it
would still be 60 million tons short of what we
need to close the gap. And if we include the goal
of modestly rebuilding stocks, we will be short by
90 million tons.
As noted earlier, falling water tables and rising
temperatures are making it more difficult for farmers
to expand grain production. Water tables are
falling and wells are going dry under the North China
Plain, which produces a third of China's corn and
half of its wheat; in most states in India, including
the Punjab, its breadbasket; and under the southern
Great Plains and southwest of the United States.
In addition, farmers in all three countries are
losing water to cities. Beyond this, in dozens of
smaller countries farmers are also losing irrigation
water to aquifer depletion and to cities.
(((Have we fully considered the "calamitous human
dieback" option? Might put a dent in Krispy Kreme
Record or near-record temperatures have withered
crops in key food-producing regions of the world
in each of the last two years. Since 1970, the earth's
average temperature has risen 0.6 degrees Celsius.
Three of the four warmest years on record came
during the last four years – years of crop shortfalls.
This year's average global temperature will almost
certainly be above the norm (defined as the average
for 1950-80). What we do not know yet is how much
above it will be and which food-producing
regions will be most affected.
If the estimated 2004 shortfall of 60 million tons
materializes, it will take the world into uncharted
territory. Either grain stocks will drop by
12 days of consumption, falling to an all-time low
of 47 days, or food prices will rise and force a
reduction in consumption – something that will
be particularly difficult for the 3 billion people
who live on less than $2 a day. In reality, the
shortfall will be covered by some combination of
declining stocks and rising prices.
- (((Climate changes
- = New World Disorder starves.
Now consider a possible Mideast oil crisis on top of
that. Could get hairy.)))
A shortfall on the scale projected almost guarantees
the emergence of a politics of food scarcity in 2005
of the sort that occurred in the early 1970s, when
exporting countries such as the United States
restricted grain exports in order to curb the rise
in domestic food prices.
((("American food bomb.")))
There are already early signs of this. In September
2002, Canada – on the heels of a heat-reduced harvest
– announced it would limit wheat exports to
assure that domestic needs were satisfied.
Two months later, Australia, also experiencing a
drought-reduced harvest, limited exports to its
traditional customers only. In mid-2003, the
European Union stopped issuing grain export
certificates for several months. And in January 2004,
Russia imposed an export tax on wheat to combat
rising bread prices.
The risk is that a year from now, lower grain stocks
and soaring food prices could destabilize governments
in low-income grain-importing countries on a scale
that would disrupt global economic progress. If this
lowers the Nikkei stock index, the Dow Jones 500, and
other key indicators, we may realize that our economic
future depends on a worldwide effort to stabilize
population, raise water productivity, and stabilize
climate – and at wartime speed. (((Got wartime speed
Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy
Institute and author of Plan B: Rescuing a Planet
Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.
Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org or contact
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O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
THINK OIL IS GONNA
GET CHEAPER ANYTIME
SOON? ME NEITHER
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