October 19th, 2012 by Tim Tyler
For over half of the last decade, the world has consumed more food than it has produced. What happens when the world consumes more food than it produces? Well, it must start tapping into the global food reserves ,and it seems that in the past decade those reserves have been hit pretty hard. As a result, global food reserves have reached their lowest level in almost 40 years.
Severe weather patterns are mostly to blame, with increased flooding, droughts, and unusual cold and warm fronts that have hit the United States and other food-exporting countries hard this past year. The United Nations has warned that the world grain reserves are so dangerously low that it could trigger a major hunger crisis next year. The Guardian writes:
Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine, and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.
Another factor is that the demand for food has increased with a growing world population. The demand has been higher than the yield and every failed crop puts the world food supplies at greater risk.
“We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently.
Prices of main food crops such as wheat and maize are now close to those that sparked riots in 25 countries in 2008. FAO figures released this week suggest that 870 million people are malnourished and the food crisis is growing in the Middle East and Africa. Wheat production this year is expected to be 5.2% below 2011, with yields of most other crops, except rice, also falling, says the UN.
According to Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, “the climate is no longer reliable and the demands for food are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable, unless urgent action is taken.” Brown believes that “the global food supply system could collapse at any point, leaving hundreds of millions more people hungry, sparking widespread riots and bringing down governments.”
In Brown’s new book, he wrote: “Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations. We are on the same path. Each country is now fending for itself. The world is living one year to the next.” What we are seeing the start of is a food supply breakdown with a dash by speculators to “grab” millions of square miles of cheap farmland, the doubling of international food prices in a decade, and the dramatic rundown of countries’ food reserves.
Experts are predicting that key staples, such as wheat and rice, may double in the next 20 years, which will cause the poor to suffer more, with most of their income going for food.
In September, food prices rose 1.4%, just after an increase of 6% in July. This puts food prices close to record levels, according to the FOA.
“We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity,” says Brown. “The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil.”
This warning from Brown comes as the world governments cited extreme heat and drought for poor harvest this year, that sent food prices soaring.
“The situation we are in is not temporary. These things will happen all the time. Climate is in a state of flux and there is no normal any more.
“We are beginning a new chapter. We will see food unrest in many more places.
“Armed aggression is no longer the principal threat to our future. The overriding threats to this century are climate change, population growth, spreading water shortages and rising food prices,” Brown says.
When the necessities for life are threatened, such as food and water. Then one can only expect some kind of outcry to follow. I just have a feeling that this outcry won’t be so gentle as desperation sets in across the world.
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