Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers
It should not be necessary to apologise for returning to the subject of food prices and climate change in this article, not least because the UN has called an emergency meeting for September 24 2010 to discuss the issue.
This has been prompted by “experts” predictions that prices are expected to rise by a further 10% in the next few months.
In the meantime, riots have taken place in the capital of Mozambique, where seven people died and hundreds were injured. The riots were prompted by a government decision to raise bread prices by 30%.
The tragedy is that the price rises are most likely to hit basic staples like wheat, rice sugar and palm oil – the basics that people can’t do without and that are used in so many processed foods.
These are also the basic foods that the poorest around the world cannot do without. By mid 2011, according to Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, continued commodity price rises would push food price inflation up to 7-8%.
The situation in 2010 is not the same as it was in 2008, when there were also food riots in many parts of the world. Then it was caused by low global stocks of wheat. This time the issue is countries hoarding surplus stocks and sracmbling to buy more.
Part of the cause is that Russia, the world’s fourth largest wheat producer, has banned exports following this summer’s severe drought and warned that the ban may remain until after the 2011 harvest.
The summer’s extreme weather appears to have been the main factor and it hasn’t only affected Russia. Ukraine has been hit by unusually dry weather and Canada has had unusually wet weather while China and Pakistan have suffered unprecedented levels of monsoon flooding. An estimated 230 million people have been affected by this year’s floods around the world, which have left more than 4,200 people missing or dead.
Add to that the flooding and mudslides in Guatemala, the prediction that the Chinese harvests could be reduced by up to a fifth as a result of climate change and the fact that the UK’s seven warmest years since 1600 have been in the last decade and it is difficult to understand how there could still be climate change deniers in the world.
All this comes at a time when agricultural production needs to be stepped up to meet the growing demand from the newly-affluent emerging economies like India and China plus predicted population growth up to 2050.
There are two things that need to happen quickly. The first is that every country in the world needs to put action on global warming and climate change to the very top of its action list. That won’t be easy in the midst of an ongoing global recession, but it is hard to argue that it isn’t a top priority.
There is much innovative research going on, whether it is the ongoing development of genetically modified and disease resistant seeds or the work of the Biopesticides Developers in researching and developing low-chem agricultural products such as biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers which are more environmentally friendly than the chemical-based products that have been implicated in various health and environmental pollution conditions.
The second top priority issue, therefore is that the processes of developing and licensing new and more innovative, as well as more environmentally friendly, agricultural tools has to be unified and speeded up across the world.