We better wake up NOW! Jim Ashe Cleveland.|
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From: "Reah Janise Kauffman" <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 4:47 PM
Subject: Earth Policy news: Wakeup Call on the Food Front
> Eco-Economy Update 2003-11 Please share with a friend!
> For Immediate Release
> Copyright Earth Policy Institute 2003
> December 16, 2003
> WAKEUP CALL ON THE FOOD FRONT
> Lester R. Brown
> (This piece first appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday, December 15,
> 2003, entitled "Dry, With a Chance of a Grain Shortage.")
> While Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Bush discussed Taiwan,
> currency rates and North Korea on December 9, a more important and
> far-reaching development in U.S.-China relations was going on far from the
> White House.
> Under the North China Plain, which produces half of China's wheat and a
> third of its corn, water tables are falling by 3 to 10 feet per year.
> with rising temperatures and the loss of cropland to non-farm uses, this
> trend is shrinking the Chinese grain harvest, which has fallen in four of
> the past five years. To get an idea of the magnitude, the harvest dropped
> 66 million tons during that period, an amount that exceeds the total
> grain harvest of Canada, one of the world's leading grain exporters.
> Thus far China has covered its growing grain shortfall by drawing down its
> once-massive stocks. It can do this for perhaps one more year before those
> stocks are depleted. Then it will have to turn to the world market for
> purchases. The odds are that within the next few years the United States
> will be loading two or three ships per day with grain destined for China.
> This long line of ships stretching across the Pacific will function like a
> huge umbilical cord between the two countries.
> This isn't only a question of U.S.-China relations, but also one of the
> relationship between the Earth's 6.3 billion people and its natural
> resources, especially water. Food production is a water-intensive process.
> Producing a ton of grain requires a thousand tons of water, which helps
> explain why 70 percent of all water diverted from rivers or pumped from
> underground goes for irrigation.
> The tripling of world water demand over the past half-century, combined
> the advent of diesel and electrically driven pumps, has led to extensive
> overpumping of aquifers. As a result, more than half the world's people
> live in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry.
> Among these countries are the three that account for half of the world
> harvest: China, India and the United States. In India, water tables are
> falling in most states, including the Punjab, that nation's breadbasket.
> the United States, aquifers are being depleted under the southern Great
> Plains and throughout the Southwest, including California.
> If the world is facing a future of water shortages, then it is also facing
> future of food shortages.
> To be sure, it is difficult to trace long-term trends in food production,
> which fluctuates with weather, prices and the spread of farm technology to
> developing countries. In one of the major economic achievements of the
> half-century, China raised its grain output from 90 million tons in 1950
> 392 million tons in 1998. Since then, though, China's production appears
> have peaked, dropping by 66 million tons, or 17 percent. (See data
> As a result, it seems likely that China will ultimately need to buy 30, 40
> or 50 million tons of grain a year, and then it will have to turn to the
> United States, which accounts for nearly half of the world's grain
> Imports on this unprecedented scale will create a fascinating geopolitical
> situation: China, with 1.3 billion consumers and foreign exchange reserves
> of $384 billion-enough to buy the entire U.S. grain harvest eight times
> over-will suddenly be competing with American consumers for U.S. grain, in
> all likelihood driving up food prices.
> For the first time in their history, the Chinese will be dependent on the
> outside world for food supplies. And U.S. consumers will realize that,
> it or not, they will be sharing their food with Chinese consumers.
> Managing the flow of grain to satisfy the needs of both countries
> simultaneously will not be easy because it could come amid a shift from a
> world of chronic food surpluses to one of food scarcity. Exporters will be
> tempted to restrict the flow of grain in order to maintain price stability
> at home, as the United States did 30 years ago when world grain stocks
> at record lows and wheat and rice prices doubled. But today the United
> States has a major stake in a stable China because China is a major
> partner whose large economy is the locomotive of Asia.
> The pressure on world food markets may alter the relationship between
> exporting and importing countries, changing the focus of international
> negotiations from greater access to markets for exporting countries such
> the United States to assured access to food supplies for China and the 100
> or so countries that already import grain.
> The prospect of food and water scarcity emerges against a backdrop of
> concern about global warming. New research by crop ecologists at the
> International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and at the U.S.
> Department of Agriculture indicates that a 1-degree-Celsius rise in
> temperature (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the optimum during the growing
> season leads to a 10 percent decline in yields of rice, wheat and corn.
> four of the past six years being the warmest on record, grain harvests are
> suffering. High temperatures lowered harvests last year in India and the
> United States and scorched crops this year from France to Ukraine.
> The new combination of falling water tables and rising temperatures, along
> with trends such as soil erosion, has led to four consecutive shortfalls
> the world grain harvest. This year production fell short of consumption by
> record 92 million tons. These shortages have reduced world grain stocks to
> their lowest levels in 30 years.
> If we have a shortfall in 2004 that is even half the size of this year's,
> food prices will be rising worldwide by this time next year. You won't
> to read about it in the commodity pages. It will be evident at the
> supermarket checkout counter. During the fall of 2003, wheat and rice
> rose 10 percent to 30 percent in world markets, and even more in some
> of China. These rises may only be the warning tremors before the
> We can, however, take measures to improve world food security. We could
> recognize that population growth and environmental trends threaten
> progress and political stability just as terrorism does. Since the
> overwhelming majority of the nearly 3 billion people expected to be born
> during this half-century will be in countries where water tables are
> falling and wells are running dry, filling the family planning gap and
> creating a social environment to foster smaller families is urgent.
> The situation with water today is new, but similar to that with land a
> half-century ago. Coming out of World War II, we looked toward the end of
> the century and saw enormous projected growth in population but little new
> land to plow. The result was a concentrated international effort to raise
> land productivity; boosting the world grain yields from just over one ton
> per hectare in 1950 to nearly three tons today. We now need a similar
> full-court press to raise water productivity, by shifting to more
> water-efficient crops, improving irrigation and recycling urban water
> As it becomes apparent that higher temperatures are shrinking harvests and
> raising food prices, a powerful new consumer lobby could emerge in support
> of cutting carbon emissions by moving to a hydrogen-based economy. It is a
> commentary on the complexity of our time that decisions made in ministries
> of energy may have a greater effect on future food security than those
> in ministries of agriculture.
> # # #
> For a more detailed discussion see Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress
> and a Civilization in Trouble.
> Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org
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