“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Record-breaking drought. Wildfires too numerous to count. The hottest summer on record. (If only all of those people who claim global warming stopped in 1998 were right.) One of the more immediate catastrophes resulting from the extreme weather our planet is experiencing is crop failure. This summer’s extremes have led to major soybean and corn crop failures making 2012 the worst harvest for the US in half a century.
- the US is currently consuming more grain than it produces
- Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan (which produce more than a quarter of the world’s wheat exports) are expected to suffer similar losses
- worldwide food consumption has surpassed production for the sixth time in 11 years
- countries have reduced reserves from an average 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to less than 74 days in recent years
Not surprisingly, the crop failures lead to a major spike in food prices. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported an increase in the food price index of 1.6 percent. That may not sound like much, but for the poorest countries in the world, it’s significant. Poor families pay anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. If that cost increases further, those families are going to have an even harder time putting food on the table.
This is in stark contast to most families in North America where we spend less than 10 percent of our incomes on food. We may grumble if the cost of food rises, but the vast majority of us still tend to get by. But everyone is having to adapt to the new normal. As some examples of that, farmers are growing larger birds so they have less mouths to feed; cattle are being fed candy as a cheaper alternative to grain; and restaurants have increased the prices on their menus because of the higher costs of ingredients they’ve been exposed to.
Last week the UN FAO Committee on World Food Security held its 39th session in Rome from October 15-20 where it addressed this devastating consequence of global warming and climate change. In particular, it challenged participants to help figure out what can be done to tackle the rising costs of food worldwide. For many years, the number of people going hungry around the world had been decreasing, but that seems to have reached a plateau more recently. In fact, in Africa and the Middle East, the numbers of people going hungry is on the rise, and this will only get worse as the cost of food climbs due to ever-worsening crop failures. During the sessions last week, the the Committee stressed the importance of international cooperation to help end poverty and hunger.
After all, there’s still enough food at present. It’s the distribution of it that’s the biggest problem.
Just like with so many things in this world. Seems the market forces haven’t been able to solve this one either.