A rather depressing/unsettling piece from The Telegraph linking the current political unrest in the Middle East and Africa with food supply issues. They point out that the surge in global food prices is hitting hardest the countries with an accelerating gap between rich and poor. So while industry leaders here claim that the NZ economy will benefit from a rise in these prices, families are suffering. Not a good sign for equality or our children’s nutrition.
So here are some really interesting tidbits from the article:
— The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cereals index has risen 39pc in the last year, the oil and fats index 55pc.
— Vulnerable governments are scrambling to lock up world supplies of grain. Algeria bought 800,000 tonnes of wheat last week, and Indonesia ordered 800,000 tonnes of rice. Both greatly exceeding their normal pace of purchases.
— The immediate cause of this food spike was the worst drought in Russia and the Black Sea region for 130 years, lasting long enough to damage winter planting as well as the summer harvest. Russia imposed an export ban on grains. This was compounded by late rains in Canada, Nina disruptions in Argentina, and a series of acreage downgrades in the US. The world’s stocks-to-use ratio for corn is nearing a 30-year low of 12.8pc, according to Rabobank.
— The deeper causes are well-known: an annual rise in global population by 73m; the “exhaustion” of the Green Revolution as the gains in crop yields fade, to cite the World Bank; diet shifts in Asia as the rising middle class switch to animal-protein diets, requiring 3-5 kilos of grain feed for every kilo of meat produced; the biofuel mandates that have diverted a third of the US corn crop into ethanol for cars.
— Add the loss of farmland to Asia’s urban sprawl, and the depletion of the non-renewable acquivers for irrigation of North China’s plains, and the geopolitics of global food supply starts to look neuralgic.
— The global reservoir of unforested cropland is 445m hectares, compared to 1.5 billion in production.
Lessons for NZ
We need to protect our arable land from deterioration, erosion, flooding and lifestyle blocks. We also need to look after our water supplies. These resources need to be effectively managed if NZ wants to continue to be the ‘farm to the world’.
Resilience in local production and supply are key. Sharpened distribution systems that ensure quality food items get onto NZ plates and into lunchboxes without significant waste or cost are essential.
Not being preached too about fiscal responsibility, geopolitics and how price increases are good for all NZers while millionaire politicians borrow $300 million a week to pay for tax cuts for the rich and chew over the Wagyu fat about propping up failed financial companies and trashing our environment in favour of unsustainable dairying? Priceless.