Environment Forum

Food for thought

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.”

Global plantings of biotech crops

(Reuters) – Led by U.S. producers, 14 million farmers in 25 countries planted genetically modified crops in 2009, increasing planted biotech cropland by 7 percent, even as biotech crop use declined in Europe, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a pro-biotech crop group.

Biotech soybeans made up more than three-quarters of global soybean plantings; biotech cotton was nearly half of global cotton, and biotech maize accounted for more than one-quarter of global maize land.

The following is a list of 15 countries that planted at least 100,000 hectares in 2009 to genetically modified corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops, according to ISAAA. Ten countries planted less than 100,000 hectares.