Peak food?

Image source: AFP/Getty

The big news occupying the headlines at the moment is that — shock, horror — food prices are rising because of short supplies. With burgeoning population growth (a doubling in the last half century!), climate change affecting harvests (e.g. Australia), an increasingly wealthy Asian population demanding a high protein diet (i.e. meat), and a declining area of arable land due to ecological degradation, you don’t have to be a brilliant economist to calculate the effects of these market dynamics. It doesn’t help, of course, that the price of oil continues to rise adding to farmers’ costs. To address this problem some governments, in their infinite wisdom, have encouraged the production of biofuels, increasing the competition for land, and causing the price of foodstuffs to rise further.

Most at risk are the world’s poor and there have been riots in the streets in places like Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Haiti in the past month. How much air time has been given to this unrest in the media? Very little when there are much more important issues to focus upon like the US Democratic Party primaries. In a globalised world, however, this is something from which the West cannot insulate itself. Famine in developed countries? As inconceivable as this sounds, without strong political leadership to address the sources of the current agricultural crisis, things can only get worse.