Failing Rains, Failing Crops World Faces Hunger

B. McPherson

Changing weather patterns around the world are causing droughts and crop failures. The American mid-west which produces more corn and soy than any other country is facing the worst drought in 56 years. While the harvest isn’t in in the US, estimates are that it will be about 30% lower than usual. Already those bidding on corn commodities have pushed the price up by about 50%.

Wheat crops in Canada are about normal with adequate rainfall in most areas except the Peace River area in the north which is dry.

Drought in the Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan has curtailed grain in those countries.

Argentina and Brazil are both experiencing drought conditions.

India had disappointing rain yield from their monsoon season.

The global food harvest may be as poor as 2008 when hunger drove many to agitate for subsidized food supplies. India curtailed the export of their lower grades of rice so that supplies could be available to their own residents. This year the expected drop in rice production is estimated at 7.8 million metric tonnes(8.6 million tons).

China seems to have escaped the worst of the weather changes this growing season. With over 1.3 billion mouths to feed this is good news indeed. Some areas in northern China can now produce two crops per year because of temperature increases, but are limited to one because of the shortage of water.

For the average N. American price increases are expected across the board and the higher cost for corn is passed through the food chain. Initially prices for pork and beef may dip as ranchers seek to reduce their stock to avoid having to purchase more expensive feed. Cattle that would normally graze are having to be fed from purchased forage crops. Corn and soy are used extensively in processed foods.

For the poor, the inevitable increases in food prices are a catastrophe. The World Hunger Education Service states that their latest figures show that 925 million people were malnourished in 2010. This was down from the critical 2008. Food aid NGO’s and UN agencies have been forced cut back their purchases for distribution to the most hungry due to price increases.

The poor spend a far greater proportion of their income on food. Because foods low in protein are cheaper, the poor are forced to cut back on protein necessary for health. With the ongoing financial crisis in the world, more and more people have been pushed from working poor or middle class to simply poor. People who have been forced to flee areas of armed conflict are suddenly thrust into the role of destitute beggars. While many of us think of the poor as “people over there”, hunger is creeping and growing in our N.American society as our beleaguered food banks can attest.

An academic paper produced this spring gives cause for more pessimism. The socioeconomics of food crop production and climate
change vulnerability: a global scale quantitative analysis
of how grain crops are sensitive to drought

discusses the possibility of public unrest and international conflicts if food production cannot maintain an adequate level of supply. They estimate that an increase of 70% in food production will be necessary to fend off these dangers. This seems like an impossibility in the face of climatic uncertainties.

We have seen wars fought over control of oil supplies, but you can’t eat or drink oil and you can live without it. You can’t grow crops without water. You can’t live very long without water. The conflicts will be vicious.

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