Environment Forum

Food for thought

January 12, 2011

USA/Feeling hungry? Maybe that’s because of all the news, from around the world, about food today — how much people produce, how much more they need, how much it’s going to cost, how much of an effect it will have on climate change, and vice versa.

Starting in Washington, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported that American stockpiles of corn and soybeans will shrink to surprisingly low levels this year, which sent grain prices soaring to 30-month highs. Bad weather in places like Australia and rising world demand led by China are partly responsible for cutting crop inventories around the globe.

There’s actually encouraging news on the food front from south Sudan, where citizens are voting now to become an independent nation. While much of Africa is under intense pressure to provide food for its people, the U.N. World Food Programme says south Sudan could become a food exporter and end its chronic food dependency within a decade. But immediately after the vote, this area is likely to need more food aid, according to the U.N.

INDIA-ECONOMY/INFLATIONIn India, food inflation rose for the fifth straight week to the highest level in more than a year, part of a trend of rising food prices across Asia. In India’s case, the price of staples like onions and tomatoes have political heft and are a major voter issue in advance of state elections there.

Back in the United States, two reports offer food for thought, or at least some interesting thoughts on food. The Worldwatch Institute, which puts together an annual “state of the world” report, focuses this year on agricultural innovation as the key to cutting poverty and stabilizing the climate. Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, where 239 million of the world’s 925 million hungry people live, Worldwatch advocates building up soil and water (not just donating seeds for planting), using existing food more effectively, and thinking about the global climate impact of growing food. “African farmers could remove 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next 50 years, primarily by planting trees among crops and stewarding nearby forests,” the report says, warding off “disastrous climate change.”

SUDAN/Environmental analyst Lester Brown worries that this change is already imminent. Talking to reporters about his new book, “World on the Edge,” Brown talked of a potential “food bubble” caused by over-use of natural water supplies and an over-plowing of soil. “When the food bubble bursts, we will see rises in food prices,” Brown said in a telephone briefing. “No one knows how much they will rise and exactly when a big jump will come.”

Still hungry? Perhaps for some fish? The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Congress today that six nations — Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal and Venezuela — have fishing vessels that engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the last two years.

It’s a busy day for NOAA. Their scientists reported separately that 2010 tied with 2005 for the hottest year on record, since 1880. This caps a decade of record high temperatures that show human beings’ greenhouse emissions are heating the planet, according to NOAA.

Bon appetit!

Photo credits: REUTERS/Jason Reed (Vegetables harvested from the White House kitchen garden, October 20,2010)

REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (Wholesale fruit market in the eastern Indian city of Siliguri December 1, 2010)

REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah (Vendor arranges vegetables at a market in Khartoum December 31, 2010)

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