About the changing world all around us

I have been personally concerned about the headlines reporting on food shortages across the world. I must admit it has filled me with fear from time to time, can it happen here. I live a relatively good life here in Norway. My thoughts are more often on losing weight then hunger. However I also am very much aware that we live in a global world now, very little of the food which graces our table is locally grown. When that balance is upset all of us can suffer.

A world wide food shortage of proportions not seen in our lifetimes is on our doorstep. In Dhaka recently 10,000 Bangladeshi textile workers clashed with police in a protest triggered by food costs. In Haiti, demonstrators recently tried to storm the presidential palace after prices of staple foods leaped 50 per cent. In Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal and Cameroon there have been demonstrations, sometimes involving fatalities, as starving people have taken to the streets. And in Vietnam the new crime of rice rustling, when crops are stripped at night from fields by raiders, has led to the banning of all harvesting machines from roads after sunset.

Rice Shortage in Asia

But what are the factors that led to this shortage? What has triggered the price rises that have put the world’s basic foodstuffs out of reach for the worlds poorest peoples?

One factor is the decision by the US government, made several years ago, to give domestic subsidies to its farmers to grow corn that can be distilled into ethanol, a biofuel which can be mixed with petrol. This policy helps limit US dependence on oil imports and gives support to the nation’s farmers. However it also takes over land, about 20 million acres, that would otherwise have been used to grow food crops. Other nations, including Argentina, Canada and some European countries, have adopted similar biofuel policies.

In addition there is the problem of climate change. As the levels of carbon dioxide rise in the atmosphere, meteorologists have warned that weather patterns are becoming increasingly disturbed, causing devastation and drought in many areas. Some politicians see climate change as the most pressing challenge facing the world while others say that biofuels, grown to offset fossil fuel use, is taking food out of the mouths of the world’s poorest people.

Then we have the growing wealth of China. Once a relatively rural economy, China has become increasingly industrialised and its middle classes have grown accordingly. As a result there is a doubling in meat consumption in China. As the country’s farmers have sought to feed more and more animals, more and more grain has been bought by them. Many don’t realize that increased production of meat causes increased use of grain.

And finally there is the issue of vegetable oils. Soya and palm oils are a major source of calories in Asia. But flooding in Malaysia and a drought in Indonesia has limited supplies. In addition, these oils are now being sought as bio-diesel, which is used as a direct substitute for diesel in many countries

The moral of the story here is the world is a complicated place, and nothing we do, or overdo so to speak is without consequences. It is positive that we will use biofuels, it is positive that China is boom, but the consequences to the world have to be measured against these gains.

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Comments on: "Global warming + growth in China + Oil crisis = World Hunger" (9)

  1. Very interesting post! I knew about global warming of course, but wasn’t aware of the other factors. Your so thoughtful and I’m glad to have you as a life companion!

  2. Lately I’m worried about the food shortage in my neighbouring countries as this could translate to riots and even war. Hungry men are angry men.

    When I was in China, I saw large tracts of farming land being transformed into luxury houses and condominums and malls. There are billions of Chinese and feeding them is a huge task. By converting farm lands into housing projects and for leisure purposes, it’s going to cause huge problems in the country when the people grow hungry.

  3. The situation does look extremely worrying.

    I worry that in the first world, at one point, people simply won’t be able to pay for ever-increasing oil price. It might look like a minor concern compared to world hunger but many low or average-income family won’t afford gas, heater etc. soon.

    And of course, in third-world and developing country, the situation is dramatic. People just shouldn’t be hungry in the 21st century. This is non-sense. And we stand there, many of us powerless.

    When England, Europe etc. had their industrial revolution, we were not worrying about pollution or natural resources much. China does need to develop… but it gets tricky because of environmental concern, limited supply etc. Times have changed. Once again, I don’t think we should moralize China because we weren’t much better, but we should work together to improve the situation.

    Yes, the world is a tricky place.

  4. RennyBA: Thanks, I thought the whole biofuels thing was especially interesting when I first heard it. Hadn’t thought of that.

    Eastcoastlife: I think of you and some of my other friends in Asia every time I see a news report. Hope you can get a hold of food in the shops. You don’t have to be poor to be met with empty shelves. Scary!

    Zhu: I agree that we can’t moralize, its tough to see the big picture when you are standing in it, and many of the factors involved influence eachother in ways that are hard to imagine in advance. Its much easier to sit with my feet up on the sofa of my warm little house and analyze global policies 😉 Still the patterns need to be recognized so policies can be developed to balance them out again.

    The most important things we can do are 1. try to reduce our own fossil fuel use so we don’t need biofuels…saving fuel is saving fuel. 2. Develop other sources of power that do not require the use of benzine or bio fuels…like solar and wind. 3. Avoid stockpiling rice and flour which pushes prices up…my friends in Asia are exempt from this one, I am sure if I lived in Singapore I would buy extra rice if I could….but I have heard already about stockpiling in the US and I don’t think that is necessary quite yet. I have considered eating other foods then rice at home as well as a resource since we can get an abundance of other types of flour, grains, potatoes, pasta. We can leave the rice for the asian countries that base their diets on it….

  5. The world is indeed an extremely complex place. It is my hope for all of us to see how interconnected we are. What one does effects many, many more.

  6. Dear Diane, very insightful and yes I am reading newspaper reporting days after days on the shortage of food.

    My Uncle works in a rice distributing company here in Singapore and with the escalating price of rice per tons the only person benefiting ar the rice merchants. I am sorry for the lower percentile of the citizens that are working from hand to mouth with inflation going up every where.

    We knew that the recession is hitting us soon and on our part we have to be thrifty and spend within our means. I only hope that people are not exploiting the gloomy situation really.

    Thank you for sharing Diane 😉

  7. it really is a tangled web of interdependence that we all live in. i fear how far it may need to unravel before we realize how deeply connected we are.

  8. very disturbing news Diane…..
    I do hope that the human race can remedy this……
    even if it takes each individual growing their own small, self sufficient garden…

  9. Many nations have always suffered from food shortages, either on an ongoing basis or because of extreme climatic conditions. It is sad that in this day and age when so many live a privileged lifestyle (but do not appreciate the fact because they are the same as everyone around them) that the situation is not improving but is getting worse.

    Protest has been the cause of many good changes in our world. Media coverage may make the rest of the world take note and hopefully take action too. The danger of course is that it can easily get out of hand and turn violent.

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