Saturday, December 6, 2008


As promised a special Saturday post -

Okay, here's the list. Just so you know, right now there is enough food grown in the world to feed the world. It's more a matter of distribution and affordability. It's in the context of population growth on top of the constraints listed below what concerns me for the U.S. Along with figuring out where we'll land in a global economy. Right now most of us can afford the food that's distributed. But will that still be if we have to adjust our wages to be able to compete in a global economy? On top of increasing demand?

1) Water: All over the world, aquifers and rivers are being pumped dry or intruded with saltwater. Even in the U.S. we are scrambling if not fighting over water. Latest example is the Great Lakes Compact. The Great Lakes hold 90% of our freshwater but only 1% of that water is renewed every year. Once the remainder is gone, it’s gone for good. Already in peril through pollution, the Great Lakes region is using groundwater faster than it can be replenished and the compact is to enact better conservation measures for bordering states- as well to protect them from other thirsty states. Currently our food production accounts for nearly 70% of our water use. Water shortages mean a future of food shortages.

2) Soil: “Where Food Begins” according to a recent article in National Geographic. On top of it being totally depleted or blowing away from overuse in some areas, in our biggest farm belt, it’s being compacted in a way that isn’t conducive to farming and takes years to recover.

3) Honey Bees: They’re suffering from what’s been termed “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD. It’s a significant disappearance of entire colonies and no one yet knows why for sure. They pollinate a third of our food crops.

4) Agricultural Land: There’s only so much land on the Earth’s surface suitable for cultivation. As the population grows, that number shrinks due to sprawl as well as overuse which lead to less productivity or worse, advancing deserts. According to an article in Popular Science last year, more than 30% of the land west of the Mississippi River shows signs of desertification. It’s even worse in Asia and Africa despite efforts to thwart it.

5) Fish stocks: Many of our fish stocks are collapsing and commercial fisherman for many species are no longer able to fill their quotas. Reefs being the nurseries of many species of food fish as well as home to 25% of all fish are in decline all over the world and under threat of dying completely.

6) Oil: Rising oil prices equals rising food costs. Sometimes it’s not the availability of food that leads to people starving. It’s the price of it. Agriculture the way we know it is currently heavily dependent on oil. According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, in 1940 we produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy. It now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. He put it this way “when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases”. (Oil prices have dropped since I wrote this. Not because we increased supply by more drilling, but because we or rather the economy, reduced demand.)

7) Grain stocks: Are at their lowest levels in 30 years. Due to ethanol mandates, this year's world grain harvest will fall short of consumption by about 60 million tons. That has led to hoarding of grains in some countries.

8) Fertilizer: Just like with oil, demand is outpacing supply. This not only makes it unavailable for some farmers, it makes it too costly for others. Its supply is also heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

9) GE Foods: Genetically engineered foods are being hailed as the answer to feeding a growing population. But so far they’re not proving to be good for people or the planet. IMO, the only thing they are proving is that some corporations will go to great lengths to control the future of food.

10) Monocultures: GE foods and factory farms have little diversity. This is a time when we need more adaptability and natural diversity. For instance, lack of diversity, or a monoculture, led to the severity of the “great potato famine”. Currently, banana plantations across the world are being decimated because their genetic uniformity makes them vulnerable to disease. (Bananas are a main staple in East Africa for 50% of the population.) Large factory farms are also leading to polluted ground water and are wasting what could be put to better use.

11) Climate change: That’ll have an impact on our ability to grow food in a couple of ways. Advancing deserts and rising seas will not only claim agricultural land, but it’ll push people to relocate to where we grow food. It will also take time to adjust to new growing conditions. It is also a Catch 22. The more people, the more forests will have to be cleared for farming, the more forests are cleared, the faster the climate changes. In some parts of the world, already they can’t clear forests fast enough to compensate for the increased need for agricultural land. And already the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do.

12) Geopolitics and Food Security: Water poor countries as well as land poor countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, India, Korea, Libya and Egypt (among others) are buying up agricultural land in other countries like Uganda, Brazil, Cambodia, Sudan and Pakistan (among others) to feed their nations. Multi-national corporations like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Louis Dreyfus, along with plenty of others are also doing the same but for profit. Have you heard Haiti’s story about the dirt cakes? What you may not have heard is that besides population growth, another factor was shifting from being self sufficient in growing food for their nation to relying on cheaper imports. When droughts and floods destroyed rice crops in other parts of the world, it wasn’t so much that there wasn’t enough rice for them to buy; it made rice too expensive for them to buy. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced some sort of food riots due to the same reasons- food insecurity. When a country loses the ability to substantially feed itself, it is not only at the mercy of global commodity markets but of other governments as well. At issue also is not only the availability of food, but its safety too.

Don't dream it's over. Everything mentioned above is at this point reversible. A population bubble hasn't happened yet and doesn't have to happen. But we'll have to talk about it. Other countries are talking about it. More on that next time.

TTFN, LDouglas


Miss B. Havior said...

What does Miss B. like better than champers and pate’?
Slow Food. That’s right, sloooooow food. The Slow Food movement preserves cultural cuisine and the associated food plants and seeds, domestic animals, and farming within an ecoregion.
I recall one of the first jokes I heard when the duRoseland’s and I moved to sunny Florida!

“Why do people move to Florida?”
“For the 3 G’s - Golfing, Guzzling and Gardening.”

One of the ways I keep my sights on the Count, whilst he frolics’ and rumbas’ near the water, is to garden. We got us 3 seasons here in Florida! With all the fresh vegi’s I put on the Count and Countesses’ table, I save moolah from their grocery bills and it goes right into my pocket (and then I go to the liquor store!)
The Countess finds that the garden takes her back to childhood, during WWII. America and Great Briton could not feed their populations and the Victory Garden reigned supreme. America fed up to 75% of itself, with the backyard garden.
So I say, start your garden now. Build the soil up, find out what grows best, plant fruit trees and buy heritage strain seeds!
Thanks Lisa (and hello to Oliver)

LDouglas said...

Miss B. Havior,
I love the slow food movement too. I believe we'll be back to slow food but not because of people like us- out of necessity.

I always think of the Victory Gardens when I hear talk of national security or winning wars. And the people who survived the great potato famine were those skilled in home gardening.

Perhaps the bad economy will renew interest. You don't need a big yard. I read that SPIN gardening (Small Plot INtensive)is becoming more popular and just as you've found, it can be a source of extra income too.

LDouglas said...

Otherwise, Victory Gardens reminded me of something else...

I watched an interview with the CEO of Monsanto and Michael Pollan (the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and other books about food).

What stuck was the CEO saying the last time we saw demand curves for food like we are now was when we fed a war torn Europe during the 1940's. He also said it's not about to end soon.

While he was right about a lot things, he can't see, or is just in denial about Monsanto's role. Seeds are expensive. And patented genetically engineered seeds to be drought tolerant or special in another way are even more expensive. NBC news recently did a report about that.

"Rice in the Phillipines: Promise and Neglect". It points out how the farmers can't afford the new flood and/or drought tolerant rice varieties on top of other rising costs. It also points out how they can no longer feed themselves.

"In thirty years, the Philippines has gone from being a rice exporter to the world's biggest importer, unable to keep up with a population that has almost doubled to 90 million over that period."

Another interesting read is "Bill Clinton "We Blew It" On Global Food" explaining a little about food policies:
"Food is not a commodity like others," Clinton said. "We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency."

And for posterity sake,
Organic Farming Could Feed Africa:

Just so your not led astray by some slick marketing campaign that says we have to be guinea pigs for genetically engineered foods so the poor don't starve to death.

Finally, what do you think of this site?:

You play a vocabulary game and for every word you get right they donate 20 grains of rice to a poor country. I love testing my vocabulary skills but it somehow seems very crass.

Blanc Debris said...

From Newsweek (Sorry, I could not embed the link)

Under a new midnight regulation crammed through by the Bush Department of Health and Human Services and poised to become law any day now, any health-care worker may refuse to perform procedures, offer advice or dispense prescriptions, if doing so would offend their "religious beliefs or moral convictions." Congress has protected the right of physicians to opt out of providing abortions for decades. This new rule, which President-elect Obama can overturn (although it may take months), is far broader. It allows one's access to birth control, emergency contraception and even artificial insemination to turn on the moral preferences of a pharmacist, nurse or ambulance driver.

It is not my intention to create a debate on abortion. However, this is a fine example of the role religion plays in the global crisis of population explosion. The Philippines are an excellent example. Over 90% of the population is Christian. From this figure, 83% of these are Roman Catholics, 9% are Protestants, 5% are Muslims. We all know how the Catholic Church feels about birth control (Muslims have a similar dogma) and while this attitude was most likely proper 2000 years ago, today it is outdated and harmful to society.

As a united world shifting the manner which we deal with environmental issues in regards to food supply and over populations, one cannot discount the importance of changing the paradigm of religious ideology and policy.

LDouglas said...

Blanc Debris,
I found and read the article. That is quite concerning (on top of everything else.)

I just don't see how we can allow a person's religious or moral beliefs stand in the way of performing one's duty as a doctor or pharmacist. (Except in the case of actually performing an abortion. I agree with that.)

But if they have a right not to prescribe or fill prescriptions for birth control then how about for the treatment of AIDs or STD's? Can they not recommend or deny blood transfusions to their patients in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses?

I know the Catholic Church is a huge stumbling block for the encouragement of birth control. The day I saw Kathryn Jean Lopez's article trying to get environmentalists to give up birth control because it's showing up in our waterways deforming frogs, I realized that it just isn't some of the old Catholics against it. I also realized how out of touch and twisted their logic is.