Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How will we feed the world when we can't feed ourselves?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 12:57 PM

From the Associated Press:

Yields are not keeping up with a world growing hungrier. Crops are stunted in a world grown warmer. A devastating fungus, a wheat "rust," is spreading out of Africa, a grave threat to the food plant that covers more of the planet's surface than any other.

In Chicago, London and other money centers, the wheat market is so roiled by bad news and speculators that rising prices may put bread out of reach for millions more of the world's poor.

The future of wheat — in many ways the future of food — was the subject of an emergency meeting of agricultural officials who flew to Rome from around the world in late September, worried over skyrocketing prices.

Since July, when traders saw a historic heat wave devastating Russia's crop, prices on the world's wheat exchanges have shot up 50 percent. Corn and other grains rose in lockstep.

Then Mozambique was rocked by riots over rising bread prices, and 2010 began to look like 2008, when an even bigger spike in cereal prices touched off violence worldwide.

Will wheat prices ever settle back to the low, steadier levels of 2005 and earlier? "No," he replied. "We've ruled out that possibility."

Since 2005, the FAO's cereals price index has doubled. Meanwhile, the number of chronically undernourished in the world has swelled, standing today at an FAO-estimated 925 million, or one-seventh of humanity.

Feeding the world, 9 billion people by 2050, will mean boosting food output globally by 70 percent over 40 years, the FAO says.

But wheat, the biggest source of protein in poorer countries, is falling behind: As global population grows 1.5 percent a year, the growth in wheat yields, the amount of grain produced per hectare, has slipped below 1 percent a year. In the United States, yields generally peaked in the 1990s.

In the face of leapfrogging prices, stagnating yields and shifting climate zones, wheat cannot be counted on to fill mankind's stomach in the future as it has since at least 7000 B.C. Affordable substitutes are often unavailable in places like India and Egypt.

"Humanity faces tremendous challenges to food security," the world's top wheat researchers conclude in a blueprint for a stepped-up strategy to produce more of the grain.

Read the entire article here.

Further reading: Rising Seas and the Groundwater Equation -- The New York Times

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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