Tuesday, November 20, 2007

After the Oil Crisis, a Food Crisis? (TIME)

"Worldwide food reserves are at their lowest in 35 years right now. One in six already don't have enough to eat. Nearly every region of the world has experienced drastic food price inflation this year. "

Is the world headed for a food crisis? India, Mexico and Yemen have seen food riots this year. Argentines boycotted tomatoes during the country's recent presidential elections when the vegetable became more expensive than meat; and in Italy, shoppers organized a one-day boycott of pasta to protest rising prices. In late October, the Russian government, hoping to ease tensions ahead of parliamentary elections early next year, announced a price freeze for milk, bread and other foods through the end of January.

What's the cause for these shortages and price hikes?
Expensive oil, for the most part.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported last week that, at nearly $100 a barrel, the price of oil has sent the cost of food imports skyrocketing this year. Add in escalating crop prices, the FAO warned, and a direct consequence could soon be an increase in global hunger — and, as a consequence, increased social unrest. Faced with internal rumblings, "politicians tend to act to protect their own nationals rather than for the good of all," says Ali Ghurkan, a Rome-based FAO analyst who co-authored the report. Because of the lack of international cooperation, he adds, "Worldwide markets get tighter and the pain only lasts longer."

What's more, worldwide food reserves are at their lowest in 35 years, so prices are likely to stay high for the foreseeable future. "Past shocks have quickly dissipated, but that's not likely to be the case this time," says Ghurkan. "Supply and demand have become unbalanced, and... can't be fixed quickly."

The world's food import bill will rise in 2007 to $745 billion, up 21% from last year, the FAO estimated in its biannual Food Outlook. In developing countries, costs will go up by a quarter to nearly $233 billion. The FAO says the price increases are a result of record oil prices, farmers switching out of cereals to grow biofuel crops, extreme weather and growing demand from countries like India and China. The year 2008 will likely offer no relief. "The situation could deteriorate further in the coming months," the FAO report cautioned, "leading to a reduction in imports and consumption in many low-income food-deficit countries."

Hardest hit will likely be sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the world's poorest nations depend on both high-cost energy as well as food imports. Cash-poor governments will be forced to choose between the two, the FAO says, and the former has almost always won out in the past. That means more people will go malnourished. Further exacerbating the problem are the current record prices for freight shipping brought on by record fuel prices. An estimated 854 million people, or one in six in the world, already don't have enough to eat, according to the World Food Programme.

For more, go here.

NVDL: The article is posed as a question. It is not a question because there is no question about it. The effects are present, and obvious. The question to ask is when will we see changes in local agriculture. Hypermarkets have destroyed local production capacity. That needs to be regenerated. The chilling thing is, as growing and buying food becomes more expensive, the last thing we're going to be able to afford is writing off crop after crop because of climate change associated weather (droughts, floods, storms). Yet if we are sensible, we will factor this into the entire equation. The result is a singular prospect for a large proportion of humanity: Austerity

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