Severe food shortages, price spikes threaten world population

Published on the World Socialist Web Site WSWS, by Naomi Spencer, 22 December 2007.

Worldwide food prices have risen sharply and supplies have dropped this year, according to the latest food outlook of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency warned December 17 that the changes represent an unforeseen and unprecedented shift in the global food system, threatening billions with hunger and decreased access to food.

The FAO’s food price index rose by 40 percent this year, on top of the already high 9 percent increase the year before, and the poorest countries spent 25 percent more this year on imported food. The prices for staple crops, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, all rose drastically in 2007, pushing up prices for grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products and spurring inflation throughout the consumer food market.

Driving these increases are a complex range of developments, including rapid urbanization of populations and growing demand for food stuffs in key developing countries such as China and India, speculation in the commodities markets, increased diversion of feedstock crops into the production of biofuels, and extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters associated with climate change …
… Tubiello’s research focuses on extreme weather events that have devastated entire crops when they coincided with germination and blossoming periods, as was the case with Italy’s corn crop in 2003. Tubiello noted that corn yield in the Po valley growing region fell to 36 percent following a heat wave that raised Italy’s temperatures 6 degrees over the long-term average.

In addition to the survival thresholds of plants, researchers have begun studying the effects of higher temperatures on the physiology and diseases of livestock, as well as the spread of pests, molds and viruses native to tropical zones. Goddard Institute research has suggested that bluetongue, a viral disease of cattle and sheep, will move outward from the tropics into regions including southern Australia. According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, higher temperatures will lead to higher infertility in livestock and lower dairy yields.

The implications of these studies are that farming adaptations such as hardier crops and shifts in planting times may initially mitigate anticipated global warming. Yet over the coming decades, the stress of climate change on the food supply will also intensify in abrupt and catastrophic ways for which the capitalist system and its ruling elites are entirely unprepared and which they are unable to prevent. (full text).

Links:

Inflation surge hits consumers, compounds global banking crisis, by Barry Grey, 20 December 2007;

Food prices rise, living standards fall for US families, by Naomi Spencer, 8 December 2007.

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