Feeding Humanity



The International Herald Tribune reports on how the drought in Australia (caused by Global Warming?) has been a major contributor to the crisis situation for rice supplies and cost.

The Deniliquin mill, the largest rice mill in the Southern Hemisphere, once processed enough grain to satisfy the daily needs of 20 million people. But six long years of drought have taken a toll, reducing Australia's rice crop by 98 percent and leading to the mothballing of the mill last December.

This 98% reduction in Australia's crop contributed to the current unrest.

The collapse of Australia's rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world's largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Countries dependent upon rice imports are the worst hit.

Senegal and Haiti each import four-fifths of their rice. And both have faced mounting unrest as prices have increased. Police suppressed violent demonstrations in Dakar on March 30, and unrest has spread to other rice-dependent nations in West Africa, notably Ivory Coast. The Haitian president, René Préval, after a week of riots, announced subsidies for rice buyers on Saturday.

In a seperate report, the International Herald Tribune reported on the hunger being experienced by the people of Haiti, a hunger that fueled the recent riots and unseated the head of state.

Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal two days ago and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis not only is being felt among the poor, but also is eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

Will this storm of protest become the hurricane some are predicting?

"This is a perfect storm," President Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Cancún, Mexico. "How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies, but also the stability of our countries."


Rising food costs have resulted in political actions that The Telegraph reports as "a new Cold War" as nations seek to obtain food supplies for their populations

The Philippines - a country with ample foreign reserves of $36bn (Britain has $27bn) - last week had to enlist its embassies to hunt for grain supplies after China withheld shipments. Washington stepped in, pledging "absolutely" to cover Philippine grain needs. A new Cold War is taking shape, around energy and food.

This is not just an economic issue but an issue of raw survival for millions around the world who are dependent upon food imports.  Food producing countries which seek to protect their own population from rising prices by restricting food exports are causing increasing suffering and starvation in the poorest countries of the world.

The global food bill has risen 57pc in the last year. Soaring freight rates make it worse. The cost of food "on the table" has jumped by 74pc in poor countries that rely on imports, according to the FAO.

Roughly 100m people are tipping over the survival line. The import ratio for grains is: Eritrea (88pc), Sierra Leone (85pc), Niger (81pc), Liberia (75pc), Botswana (72pc), Haiti (67pc), and Bangladesh (65pc).



Riots in Haiti have forced the Prime Minister out of office and reports say political unrest spreads to other countries including Egypt, Bangladesh and Mozambique.

In Haiti, the prime minister was kicked out of office Saturday, and hospital beds are filled with wounded following riots sparked by food prices. Video Watch Haitians riot over food prices

In Egypt, rioters have burned cars and destroyed windows of numerous buildings as police in riot gear have tried to quell protests.

Images from Bangladesh and Mozambique tell a similar story.

Dire predictions as well as calls for $500 million in immediate food aid donations were made at a gathering of international monetary leaders in Washington DC.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, also spoke at the joint IMF-World Bank spring meeting.

"If food prices go on as they are today, then the consequences on the population in a large set of countries ... will be terrible," he said.


Riots over high food prices have broken out in Haiti reports the Guardian.

Food prices have risen 40% on average since the middle of last year, causing unrest around the world, with riots seen in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Egypt.

For months, Haitians have compared their hunger pains to "eating Clorox [bleach]" because of the burning feeling in their stomachs.

International relief is not keeping up with the need for food assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) made an emergency appeal for donations for Haiti. It said on Monday it has received only 13% of the $96m (£48m) necessary for its Haitian programme.


World food prices are not likely to fall in the near term, Jacques Diouf, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, said today.

"There is a risk that this unrest will spread in countries where 50% - 60% of income goes to food."



Rice supplies have fallen to the levels of the 1980's as demand continues to grow and the "Green Revolution" gains have come to a stop Bloomberg reports.

World rice stockpiles are at their lowest levels since the 1980s, and the United Nations forecasts that exports will drop 3.5 percent this year.

Demand will increase 0.6 percent this year to 422.5 million tons, while production will rise about 1 percent to 422.9 million tons, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said March 11.

Rice yields globally expanded more than 40 percent from 1980 to 2000, according to data compiled by the USDA. They've increased only about 5 percent since then, the data show. Stockpiles will fall to 75.2 million tons, about half of where they were at the start of the decade, the USDA said.

As nations experience local unrest and inflation due to surging global prices they have imposed export restrictions and duties to protect local markets.  These restrictions on global trade threaten to pit nation against nation if they expand and spread to additional areas such as energy production.

China, Egypt, Vietnam and India, representing more than a third of global rice exports, curbed sales this year, and Indonesia says it may do the same. Investigators in the Philippines, the world's biggest importer, raided warehouses last month to crack down on hoarding. The World Bank in Washington says 33 nations from Mexico to Yemen may face "social unrest'' after food and energy costs increased for six straight years.



The jump in food prices around the world continues.

Rice jumped 10% on Friday to a new record reported the Financial Times.

The rise in prices – 50 per cent in two weeks – threatens upheaval and has resulted in riots and soldiers overseeing supplies in some emerging countries, where the grain is a staple food for about 3bn people.

Corn has also continued its price rise, crossing $6.00 a bushel for the first time according to a report.  The situation is expected to worsen as US farmers REDUCE their plantings of corn this year!

Worldwide demand for corn to feed livestock and to make biofuel is putting enormous pressure on global supply. And with the U.S. expected to plant less corn, the supply shortage will only worsen. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected that farmers will plant 86 million acres of corn in 2008, an 8 percent drop from last year.



The mysterious death of honeybee colonies is adding to our food woes:

"We lost 40 percent of the hives we sent there. We sent 70,000 out and lost 28,000," said Adee, whose Adee Honey Farms in Bruce is considered the largest beekeeping operation in the nation.

Modern, mechanized, agriculture may be contributing to the problem:

"Shipping these things across the country - that's not the way that honeybees have evolved, so we're really changing and manipulating these colonies quite a bit to suit our needs," Lundgren said.

"It's necessary if we want cheap almonds and other fresh produce, but on the flip side, by the changing agricultural landscape - both in terms of the actual landscape itself and how we approach agriculture - there's probably any number of factors that are ultimately involved in what we're seeing with CCD [Colony Collapse Disorder] right now."

The final result, however, will be less food and higher prices:

Without answers and a possible remedy, the financial impact will extend beyond the beekeeping business to the dinner table, said Bermel.

"It's going to hurt everything," he said. "People at the grocery store are going to see significant increases in their grocery bill."

 [Forbes: Mystery Die-Off Worries Beekeepers]




The price of rice jumped 30% yesterday(!) reported the Financial Times.

Rice prices have doubled since January, when the grain traded at about $380 a tonne, boosted by strong Asian, Middle Eastern and African demand.

The cause of the huge jump yesterday was due to actions take by the Egyptian government:

The increase came after Egypt, a leading exporter, imposed a formal ban on selling rice abroad to keep local prices down, and the Philippines announced plans for a major purchase of the grain in the international market to boost supplies. Global rice stocks are at their lowest since 1976.

India, today, also imposed tough restrictions on the export of rice:

On Friday the Indian government imposed further restrictions on the exports of rice to combat rising local inflation, with traders warning that the new regime would de facto stop all India’s non-basmati rice sales.

These moves are tumbling like dominoes around the world:

These foreign sales restrictions have removed about a third of the rice traded in the international market.

“I have no idea how importing countries will get rice,” said Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association. He forecast that prices would rise further.

The Philippines, the world’s largest buyer of the grain, said on Thursday it wanted to purchase 500,000 tonnes after it failed to buy a similar amount earlier this month. It is struggling to import 1.8m-2.1m tonnes to cover a production shortfall and on Thursday confirmed it would tap emergency stocks maintained by Vietnam and Thailand. 



The price of wheat and corn have been soaring and now rice supplies have reached a 25 year low as production increases continue to be outstripped by increases in population.

Earlier this week, the Philippines failed in an attempt to buy rice to boost its inventories.

Traders offered to sell the country only 325,000 tonnes when it wanted to buy 550,000 tonnes. The average offered price, of nearly $680 a tonne was up more than 40 per cent from January.

[Rhys Blakely: Rice supplies set to fall to 25 year lows]



Thailand worries about food shortages as regulations to substitute palm oil, widely used for cooking, for a portion of diesel fuel.

Thailand has started requiring that all its diesel fuel include a component made from palm oil, a move that could reduce costly energy imports but is driving up prices for the commodity, experts say.

Palm oil is among the products for which prices are controlled by the government, but as prices have risen globally, traders stopped selling to stores or began ignoring the fixed price.

Prices for crude palm oil have nearly doubled over the last year, jumping to 35.98 baht per kilo last month, up from 18.63 baht one year earlier.

[Staff Writers; Thailand worries over food shortages]


Next victim of climate change could be our minds.  

Beyond the agricultural aspects:

Australia is suffering through its worst dry spell in a millennium. The outback has turned into a dust bowl, crops are dying off at fantastic rates, cities are rationing water, coral reefs are dying, and the agricultural base is evaporating.

There is also damage to emotional health; depression, suicide, etc.:

The mental-health effects can be powerful. In the Australian outback, industrial activity — notably open-pit coal mining — has turned verdant areas into moonscapes seemingly overnight, and the suicide rate in the region has skyrocketed.

The effect is similar to being a refugee, forced out of one's home:
They're suffering symptoms eerily similar to those of indigenous populations that are forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. But nobody is being relocated; they haven't moved anywhere. It's just that the familiar markers of their area, the physical and sensory signals that define home, are vanishing. Their environment is moving away from them, and they miss it terribly.

 [Clive Thompson, Wired: the Next Victim of Climate Change Will be our Minds]



Competition between food and energy has now hit the comics:



Soaring prices and dwindling supply are threatening the poor around the world warns the UN.   

Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago.  At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980.

Diouf noted that there had been "tension and political unrest related to food markets" in a number of poor countries this year, including Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania. "We need to play a catalytic role to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries," he said.

 [Elisabeth Rosenthal, IHT: World Food Supply Dwindling]


Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP):

THE world’s most vulnerable who, spend 60% of their income on food, have been priced out of the food market... 

[article: Economist

Soybeans climb to 19 year high.

Soybeans rose to a 19-year high in Chicago on speculation that demand for the oilseed for vegetable oil and biofuels will surpass global supplies.

 [article: Bloomberg]

 Wheat prices continue to soar:

Wheat prices have surged some 75 percent since April...

World stockpiles are at their lowest in 25 years and there is strong demand for grains, driven partly by the biofuels revolution...

[article: Reuters]