By Ralph Surette
The Chronicle Herald (Canada)
The NDP government has blocked a move to develop lands designated as agricultural in King’s County. The reasons given were in the technical language of zoning regulations. But this is no mere local question. Rising food prices and increasing trouble in the whole vast reality to which food is central is now one of the world’s biggest problems — a “silent tsunami” as The Economist magazine called it — a part of the larger issue of climate change and resource depletion.
Food prices are at their highest levels ever and poised to rise higher (eight per cent in Canada, for now). This news was working its way to prominence a few weeks ago when other events washed over it — upheavals in the Middle East (of which food prices are a cause), catastrophe in Japan (of which a compromised food supply is a consequence), and election uproar in Canada (where this should be an issue, but isn’t).
There’s both a downside and an upside to this. The downside blew open in 2008 when there were food riots in many countries because of rising prices.
Because of the recession and a good grain harvest, things stabilized in 2009. But last year trouble resumed, mainly because of droughts and floods, as the world consumed 60 million tons of grain more than the 2,180 million it produced, drawing down stocks. This year, according to some estimates, we’ll need as much as 150 million tons more just to return to stability.
That much extra production has happened in a few fluke years over the past decades, but it won’t this year. Although corn and rice are expected to increase somewhat, the main wheat crop is winter wheat — planted last fall for this year — and that’s already compromised by drought in the main breadbaskets of Russia, China and the Southwest U. S.
Increasing climate mayhem, irrigation running dry in some countries (the World Bank says 175 million people in India are being fed with grain grown by overpumping aquifers), erosion and desertification in some others, corn being used for fuel, yields-per-acre having levelled off in the advanced countries, phosphorus for fertilizer getting scarce, 80 million more mouths to feed every year and a couple of billion more in Asia moving up to the Western-style banquet table: all this doesn’t add up.
Further, international corporations are scouring the Earth for farmland, especially in poorer countries, an indication of its rising value.
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