Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Food shortages

All this talk about global food crisis rather caught me unaware.

As an illustration, I heard from the BBC that in Haiti (more prone than most to the vaguaries of the global market since it imports so much of its food), the price of staple rice has doubled in the past year.

Various commentators have offered various reasons, from the giving over of arable land to biofuel production, to the prolonged drought in Australia (!), to the increased wealth (and subsequent demand) in the world's two most populous countries, China and India.

I rather doubt Australia contributes a significant amount to the global food market (bar a noticeable presence in wheat).

And I wouldn't have thought that biofuel production was so advanced or so earnest that it would have a global impact on food production. However, I heard some figures on [U.S.] National Public Radio just now that surprised me. It was estimated that only about 2% of European Union farmland was devoted to biofuel, but they went on to say that in the U.S., the figure is more like 20 - 30 percent!

To add perspective, the Herald quotes a UN estimate that 232 kilograms of corn is needed to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol - an amount that could feed a child for a year.

The abovementioned NPR piece suggested there was definite movement away from devoting primary production to biofuel, moving instead more towards utilising existing agricultural waste. Which is much more how it should be: a resource-greedy species such as us should be reducing as much as possible the amount of waste left over from industrial production.

1 comment:

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