Sep 112010

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Russia announced its embargo of grain exports will remain in effect until the grain harvest of 2011, next year. This, “after the country suffered a record drought which destroyed a quarter of its harvest.” Putin, the Russian leader, wants to ensure that the Russian citizens have enough grain, especially when the memory of the food shortages and rioting around the world in 2008 is still fresh in the minds of every government leader.

Will there be a similar or worse problem on a global scale next year?

“The situation is very different from two years ago…We don’t want to undermine the importance of the wheat price in such a brief period of time. This is a concern in itself, but it is not something we consider at this stage to be of a global crisis status.”

“The fact that we had inventories elsewhere and the major exporters such as the U.S. or EU could easily cover that shortfall is bringing some comfort to the market. I think the worst is over.” Abdolreza Abbassian of the FAO.

But wheat and other grain exporters were hit this year by climate changes that ruined  crops, such as “drought in Russia, flooding in Canada and parched fields in Kazakhstan and the European Union…” Stuart Wallace, Bloomberg, 09/06/2010.

And unusual and severe climate changes, like that in Russia, could easily reappear next year. In fact, dramatic weather change is currently affecting other countries around the world in negative ways:

Tropical storm Agatha this year brought “torrential rains in Guatemala, which recorded the highest rainfall in over 60 years, triggered landslides and severe flooding, washing away fields of maize, banana, sugar cane and coffee.” And Guatemala “has the world’s fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition…”

Pakistani refugees from floods.And of course, the torrential rains and flooding in China and Pakistan. The cause is “the Earth’s average temperature has been rising due to a build up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels….And a warming planet generates more precipitation in regions that typically experience rain or snow. That is because a warmer atmosphere absorbs and retains more water from the soil and water bodies – lakes, rivers and oceans. Where storm clouds gather, the atmosphere typically has more water to dump, producing heavier-than-normal-storms”.  The results are as predicted.  Regions are experiencing enhanced climates. The heat will be hotter, the drought more severe and the rain heavier (flooding rains).

Laurie A. Garrett, Senior Fellow at Global Health:

In June of this year, before the grain losses, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the OCED (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) declared that due “to a combination of scarcities, energy costs, and rising middle class demand for diverse* diets, …[their] report forecast steady increases in cereal, grain, oil, and dairy prices for the next decade, with the net impact being an up to 40 percent increase over 2007 levels.”

*With over two billion more people on the earth in 40 years, that growing global middle class, many times larger than what we have now, will require so much high quality food, housing, vehicles and adult toys, that only two earths can meet the demand. We only have one. So the price increase will be much larger than 40 percent. And chances are excellent there won’t be enough products available. (The term, a growing middle class, does not apply to the United States.)

Every government on the planet is concerned about another food shortage and it will arrive over the next 20 years as population growth relentlessly moves the world toward its destiny. Governments and private investors, however, have latched onto the only game in town, buying farms.

Since the food crisis of 2008, nations and private investors have been lining up to buy or lease millions of hectares of land from poor countries, mostly concentrated in Africa, to produce food crops for shipment to their home countries. Most of these deals are made with corrupt government officials. Often the poor farmers are evicted from their lands to make room for huge factory farms. Some deals allow the new owner or tenant to use enormous amounts of water at little cost or free while the poor are left with nothing.

An example is Ethiopia:

It’s “one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3 million hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.”

“The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil prices in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union’s insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015. In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of ‘land grabbing.'” (This is land that could be used to grow food to feed humans.)

An Ethiopian now living in Britain said:

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.”

Some countries who buy foreign farmland also plant flowers for their home market. That includes Saudi Arabia. “Local government officers in Ethiopia [said]…that foreign companies that set up flower farms and other large intensive farms were not being charged for water.” Officials say they can’t charge them because  “the deal is made by central government.” Just one farm in Awassa “uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians.” Please read the complete article. It’s worth the effort.

Will the world be subject to a food shortage in 2011? Depends on the weather. But as we have witnessed over the last decade, changes in the global climate are taking place in dramatic ways. As scientists have predicted, weather events will be more eventful. And the change can happen in a very short time period. Britain’s chief scientist, John Beddington, predicts that “a perfect storm of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions…”

“Our food reserves are at a 50-year low, but by 2030 we need to be producing 50% more food. At the same time, we will need 50% more energy, and 30% more fresh water.”

And 20 years later, we will pass the 9 billion mark in population. By then the global situation should be getting more desperate. As for the United States, those worst-affected regions could include Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Their citizens will be migrating to America. That is on top of the 139 million more inhabitants projected to be added by 2050. And the U.S. won’t be spared the climate change either, especially the Southwest.

What will happen to our interdependent world that our leaders keep telling us we are a part of? Well, each nation that can, is buying up resources right now in expectation of shortages. China is leading that race at the moment. And the farm lands these nations are buying up, mostly in Africa, are being used to grow food for their own citizens. The food will be protected from the poor by armed forces. And nations’ borders will be closed to exports. It happened in 2008, it’s happening now, and it will certainly happen when the beast is at the door.

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 Posted by at 2:52 pm