Food prices have sparked a media feeding frenzy of late (pun intended). The Interest stemming from the U.N.’s food price index report: December marked the sixth consecutive month of higher prices and 2010 ended by establishing a new index record. Daniel Gustafson, UN FAO Director, noted, “Things could become explosive again in 2011, and that’s what people are concerned about.” And thus we’ve witnessed a flurry of coverage and commentary.
Much of the reaction has been relatively gloomy. Foremost being Lester Brown’s (President, Earth Policy Institute) recent publication, “The Great Food Crisis of 2011.” The paper highlights several key indicators of impending global adversity:
• Population growth: “…we are still adding 80 million people each year.”
• Economic growth: “…some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating great quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products.”
• Ethanol: “…U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest.”
• Soil erosion: “…one-third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes…”
• Water: “…aquifer depletion is fast shrinking the amount of irrigated area in many parts of the world…”
• Agricultural productivity: “…shrinking backlog of untapped technologies…”
• Global warming: “…making it more difficult to expand the world grain harvest fast enough to keep up with the record pace of demand.”
• Mountain glaciers: “…ice melt from glaciers helps sustain not only the major rivers of Asia during the dry season…but also the irrigation systems dependent on these rivers. Without this ice melt, the grain harvest would drop precipitously and prices would rise accordingly.”
• Ice sheets: “…melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, combined with thermal expansion of the oceans, threaten to raise the sea level by up to six feet.
Brown’s conclusion being, “The current surge in world grain prices and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to,” and hence governments must act quickly to, “redefine security and shift expenditures.” Hunger is inevitable.