Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The Great Food Crisis of 2011" by Lester Brown

As the new year begins, the price of wheat is setting an all-time high in the United Kingdom. Food riots are spreading across Algeria. Russia is importing grain to sustain its cattle herds until spring grazing begins. India is wrestling with an 18-percent annual food inflation rate, sparking protests. China is looking abroad for potentially massive quantities of wheat and corn. The Mexican government is buying corn futures to avoid unmanageable tortilla price rises.

Lester's article explains how "both sides of the food supply/demand equation" raise prizes mainly through environmental degradation of arable land, global warming, population growth, increasing consumption and related factors. Disturbingly high numbers ad libitum. It finishes:

The unrest of these past few weeks is just the beginning. It is no longer conflict between heavily armed superpowers, but rather spreading food shortages and rising food prices -- and the political turmoil this would lead to -- that threatens our global future. Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility. If business as usual continues, food prices will only trend upward.

Read the whole article at Foreign Policy or in Danish at Information.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nile water match

Last fall I was just about to write a bit about Egypt threatening the Nile upstream countries not to increase their use of the river's water when... I don't know why I didn't. A 1929 treaty by the then British colonial rule reserved 80% of the Nile’s entire flow for Egypt and Sudan but May 2010 Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda agreed to disagree with the old treaty.
"Not only is Egypt the gift of the Nile, this is a country that is almost completely dependent on Nile water resources. We have a growing population and growing needs. There is no way we can accept this kind of threat."
 - spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Hossam Zaki

[New York Times / Egypt and Thirsty Neighbors Are at Odds Over Nile | NPR / Ethiopia Claims High Ground In Right-To-Nile Debate]

Today James M. Dorsey published an article about an Egyptian football tournament at European Journalism Center's TH!NK5 Water blog: Egypt Employs Soccer to Assert Its Nile Basin Water Rights. Can't believe I nearly missed that one - better follow TH!NK5! So, what does a football tournament have to do with water conflict?
"The tournament aims to create awareness among all countries sharing the Nile Basin, to safeguard the water resource for the benefit of future generations. [...] Let’s face it, football is politics. That’s why countries pour money into hosting tournaments”
 - senior Egyptian official.
Egypt won the tournament beating Uganda in the final. [CAF / The Pharaohs win the first Nile Basin tournament]

Saturday, January 08, 2011

US ecowar soundtrack by Woody Guthrie

The 1913 Italian Hall Massacre

a tragedy that occurred on December 24, 1913 in Calumet, Michigan. Seventy-three men, women, and children, mostly striking mine workers and their families, were crushed to death in a stampede when someone falsely yelled "fire" at a crowded Christmas party. [Wikipedia]

The Ludlow Massacre

the violent deaths of 19 people during an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914. The deaths occurred after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. Two women and eleven children were asphyxiated and burned to death. Three union leaders and two strikers were killed by gunfire, along with one child, one passer-by, and one National Guardsman. In response, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard. [Wikipedia]

The Dust Bowl

[aka] or the Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. [...] Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as "Okies", since so many of them [though not all of them] came from Oklahoma) traveled to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better than those they had left. Owning no land, many traveled from farm to farm picking fruit and other crops at starvation wages. [Wikipedia]


Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (1912–1967) is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists" displayed on his guitar. [...] Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and Mike Ness have acknowledged their debt to Guthrie as an influence. Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour". [Wikipedia]

Thursday, January 06, 2011

World food prices record high but no riots... yet

Here we go again... BBC / Global food prices at 'record high', says UN / World food prices at fresh high, says UN.

[2:20] "The price of rice - critical for many developing countries - is more stable. One reason, perhaps, why food protests have not been repeated."

"Rising food prices will have an effect almost all over the world but especially in poor countries where food and energy are the major things people spend their money on. [...] There's a risk, I wouldn't say a huge risk, but some risk of higher energy prices and higher food prices being very destabilising in some countries."
- George Magnus, senior economic adviser to UBS

And via Kaiser Family Foundation / News Outlets Examine Potential Implications Of Record High Food Price Levels:

"The cost of wheat, the other staple critical for global food security, is rising, but has not yet surpassed the highs of 2007-08 [...] The surge in the FAO food index is principally on the back of rising costs for corn, sugar, vegetable oil and meat, which are less important than rice and wheat for food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Haiti."
- FAO's Abdolreza Abbassian

"Three years ago, a large number of poor countries had harvested mediocre crops, forcing governments to tap the global market to bridge the shortfall in domestic production. This pushed up domestic prices and triggered riots. Food aid and agriculture officials say that as long as African and Asian countries do not need to import produce, the impact of rising global prices will remain limited. But a string of bad crops, perhaps because of poor weather, could change that outlook."
- Maximo Torero of the International Food Policy Research Institute
Update: We were a bit too fast there. According to Reuters / Rioting over food prices subsides in Algeria  a spike in suger and cooking oil prices caused some looting and the Algerian government to suspend taxes on these commodities.

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