Jan 2010

2010: A year of global famine?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about something that appears to be getting little or no media coverage… namely the fact that last year saw some of the lowest crop yields in recent history. And that’s on a global scale. US yields in most staples fell dramatically, as did — from what we can tell, given the lack of transparency involved — yields in China.

South America and Europe were slightly down on expectations while Africa and Asia turned out well below predicted numbers. And Australia had a disastrous year. It’s worth noting that this covers both northern and southern hemispheres.

Now, it seems to me that these reductions in harvests across the entire globe may well be connected in some way to Climate Change (both in terms of the weather affecting crops and in terms of one of the half-arsed solutions we’ve pursued; agrofuels). But I don’t want to get into that particular argument right now, so let’s say for the sake of discussion that the low yields are entirely unconnected with global warming. The point is that whatever the cause, it has happened.

We all know that historically speaking, famine is (by and large) a product of inequitable distribution rather than actual shortages. “It’s politics rather than reality”, as a friend of mine used to say. And it’s probably true to suggest that the world would not face famine this year if every resident of the wealthy nations ate only what they genuinely needed, wasted little and allowed the surplus to be consumed by the world’s poor.

But that’s not very likely. Because the nature of food shortages, indeed the nature of food (the annual — occasionally bi-annual — production cycle coupled with the disparity between the length of time required to produce food; months; and the length of time we can go without the stuff before severe problems manifest; days) means that we tend not to become aware of the problem until it’s too late to deal with it. It’s little consolation to a hungry person in June that there may be enough wheat to make bread in September.

The indications from the articles I’ve been reading are that there will be widespread food shortages in 2010. I’ve been following this story as it developed (a long way below the mainstream media radar) throughout the last few months, and an excellent summation of the situation has recently been published here: 2010 Food Crisis for Dummies. I recommend you read it.

Posted in: Opinion