By David L. Brown
Well, here we go again with more news from the gathering storm of famine that is looming over the world. Most media seem to prefer reporting on the latest antics of such hilarious characters as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson, all of whom are apparently far more important than what is happening to our planet. Unlike most news sources, the BBC occasionally tells it like it is, as in this story about rapidly rising food prices. From the BBC News web site :
UN warns on food price inflation
The head of the UN World Food Programme has warned that the rise in basic food costs could continue until 2010.
Josette Sheeran blamed soaring energy and grain prices, the effects of climate change and demand for biofuels.
Some food prices rose 40% last year, and the WFP fears the world’s poorest will buy less food, less nutritious food or be forced to rely on aid.
Speaking after briefing the European Parliament, Miss Sheeran said the agency needed an extra $375m (244m euros; £187m) for food projects this year and $125m (81m euros; £93m) to transport it.
She said she saw no quick solution to high food and fuel costs.
“The assessment is that we are facing high food prices at least for the next couple of years,” she said.
Miss Sheeran said global food reserves were at their lowest level in 30 years – with enough to cover the need for emergency deliveries for 53 days, compared with 169 days in 2007.
Miss Sheeran said governments needed “to look more carefully at the link between the acceleration in biofuels and food supply and give more thought to it”.
We have been warning about this for some time now, and we are particularly concerned about the impact of diverting food to production of ethanol and biodiesel. This is analogous to throwing gasoline on an already out-of-control blaze. The world is already teetering on the brink of disastrous famine, and the social disruption and human tragedy that is likely to result is almost unthinkable. To be taking grain out of the food system to supplement the energy system is mindless insanity.
The BBC piece listed some examples of places where the rising price of food is already causing economic and social disruption:
- Afghanistan: 2.5 million people in Afghanistan cannot afford the price of wheat, which rose more than 60% in 2007
- Bangladesh: The price of rice has risen 25% to 30% over the last three months. In 2007, the price rose about 70%.
- El Salvador: Rural communities are buying 50% less food than they did 18 months ago with the same amount of money. This means their nutritional intake, on an already poor diet, is cut by half.
- Anger over rising food prices have already led to riots in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco.
We might add that for people in places like these the cost of food is a major item in family budgets, possibly representing half or more of total expenses. What can it mean in Bangladesh, for example, to see the price of rice up 70% last year and another 25-30% already this year with Winter not yet over? Remember, too, that these people depend on the raw commodities, not highly processed foods such as we in the West “enjoy,” and in which the total cost is affected to a relatively less degree by rises in grain prices. When rice doubles, the cost of food for people in Bangladesh also doubles because they are living close to the bone.
The BBC mentions riots in several places, but doesn’t mention some others I have heard of, in Mexico, China, Kazakhstan, and even Italy where the price of pasta has zoomed upward. We can expect more such events, and worse ones as the world food situation continues to come apart at the seams.
The current issue of The Economist, as always, carries a statistical running tabulation of commodity prices. This week it shows that the price of world food commodities in general have risen by 61.1 percent in the last 12 months. Meanwhile, in the U.S. which is the source of about 75% of all food exports in the world, we are expected to use fully one-third of our 2008 corn crop to produce ethanol.
What can statistics like these mean? Well, it ain’t good, that’s for sure. The cold, hard fact is that the Earth is sailing into a period of dreadful famine and the number of “failed” nations is sure to grow, perhaps exponentially so. Those places that we have called “emerging economies” will become “submerging economies.” Food wars will break out as nations attack each other in order to obtain access to food. In places where civil breakdown occurs — and there will be growing numbers of those — anyone with a weapon and the strength to use it can be counted upon to resort to violence and force before lying down to succumb to starvation. Let’s face it, the poor of the Earth will not go gentle into that good night, as Dylan Thomas put it, but rather will choose to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
These kinds of scenarios will lead to even more problems, obviously. Indigenous farmers will be killed for their seed and stocks of food. Remaining food stocks will be ransacked and wasted. Killers will turn to human flesh for food, in a vicious cycle of lawlessness, cannibalism, despair and desolation. These scenarios can play out in places across Africa and the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, even China and India with their exploding billion-plus populations.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in regions that still have the ability to produce food must beware of the possibility of being overrun by floods of refugees. Europe with its open borders, aversion to self defense, and proximity to third world regions is in particular danger. America perhaps less so, but still vulnerable to floods of hungry Mexican, Central and South American refugees pouring across our Southern border.
I note with curious interest that the UN authority states that food prices could continue to rise “until 2010″. I have to wonder what she thinks is going to happen in the next couple of years to, as she suggests, bring an end to those rising prices? One possible explanation: The UN believes that by that time sufficient human lives will have disappeared into the jaws of famine to bring food supplies back into balance with the population. Is that what she means? Reading between the lines can sometimes reveal much, and I can think of no other explanation for not assuming that the problem will merely continue to grow worse.
The ancient Mayans kept a calendar which they called the Long Count. It predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Maybe they were onto something, eh? Well, we will soon find out for that date is just one Presidential term in the future.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we continue to build dozens of ethanol plants to turn food into fake gasoline so that our farmers can grow rich and our citizens can continue to drive merrily down the highway of life in their gas guzzling vehicles. What is shaping up is perhaps the greatest sin of history, a worldwide travesty, and we are acting like passengers on that “unsinkable” ship the RMS Titanic, dancing to the music as the band plays on.