Another Food Crisis

This won’t be a surprise to those who paid attention to some of the serious weather events of 2010:  When Russia’s wildfires exploded, we heard that Russia would be banning wheat exports for the immediate future.  Then Pakistan lost an entire rice harvest and a good deal of wheat due to the worst flooding in that nation’s history – requiring Pakistan to import more than it normally would have done.  And now Australia’s floods are affecting not only coal but  wheat and other commodities.

We had a food-price crisis in 2008 – (see chart) – but that one appears to have been driven by a speculative and greedy market where investors who had no interest in food were grabbing futures contracts in the hope of exploiting the competition between eaters and drivers  in the rise of biofuels, particularly ethanol.  The Great Recession seemed to have provided some relief for eaters, and prices dropped back toward normal.

[Washington Post Graphic – click image for full size]

I’m not an expert – but this year’s food crisis seems to be different.  It is being driven by a disruption in supply, not by speculation in the market, and if this is the case, we need to be listening to people like Lester Brown who says “The new reality is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos.”

If you are an eater 0r a driver, you need to educate yourself on this story.  The Washington Post has a good story from last Saturday.  A couple of excerpts:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently warned that in December its food price index surpassed its previous peak of early summer 2008, fed by particularly sharp increases in sugar, cooking oils and fats. Corn and soy prices were also moving up quickly, with corn hitting a 29-month high Friday.

In Bangladesh, rice prices jumped 8 percent in December. In India, the price of onions soared 80 percent in just one week.

“Now everyone is having fears of going back to the levels of 2007-08,” said Sudakshina Unnikrishnan, a Barclays Capital commodities analyst.

Rising food prices may have been an ingredient in the instability in Tunisia that drove that country’s president, Zine el-AbidineBen Ali, from office Thursday…

Lester Brown has a report out this week on the topic:

Whereas in years past, it’s been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it’s trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars. On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and—due to climate change —crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future…

…The current surge in world grain and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to.

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices—and the political turmoil this would lead to—that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward.

Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge, is available here.

So what should a Christian response be? We need to open our eyes:  Big things are happening in our world, but Jesus warned us, didn’t he?  We need to practice stewardship in our own lives so we will be able to help others.  There are good biblical examples for this with remarkable parallels to our own day (rich Christians in one part of the world helping those in another part).  You can help practically by supporting organizations like Care of Creation - our Farming God’s Way program has great potential to increase food supply by making God’s earth healthier.

And some of us may be in a position to do more,  If we have the ear of those in authoriy, or the authority ourselves to modify policies or to move corporations who can make a difference, then the example of Esther probably applies.  Who knows but that God has placed you in the position you are in today for ‘such a time as this?’

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