We are just now waking up to a new world, one in which conflicts will revolve around food: this is Lester Brown’s analysis in Foreign Policy magazine this month. The causes for this crisis are not just the old ones of rising population, lack of access, scarce resources, or vagaries of the weather which constrain supply and cause food inflation. To these, we now have to add, the diversion of grain from food to fuel, disappearing aquifers and desertification, leading to countries becoming unable to feed their people and of course, the elephant in the room, climate change. It is estimated that for a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature, crop yields drop by 10 percent. In another article, Frederick Kaufman addresses the role of speculation in fueling the rise in food prices.
How is the world reacting to this? In the post World War II era, the world was rebuilt by coöperation, through the setting up of institutions (UN, FAO, World Bank, IMF) that were supposed to work in the interest of the common good. Today, however, countries are intent solely on pursuing their parochial interests. Some like China and Saudi Arabia are leasing or buying land in Africa for their own projects. (That this land is essential for the food security of the people living there is of obvious concern). South Korea is setting up a system of buying grain directly from US farmers so a part of the produce would be diverted before it ever enters the market.
This is not about the future, this war is here and now: we have to address the issue of climate change in a constructive way, we have to restructure our food world: from industrial size operations to mid and small size farms, from destructive techniques to nurturing agroecology practices, and personally to a healthier (smaller portions, less meat, more seasonal) diet.