Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Global food crisis - Do we blame Al Gore or George W Bush?

The United States television "news" media seems worse than useless.

The range of topics reported on by the media, on TV and newspapers, here in the states is very narrow, and seems to be a mix of about 40% entertainment news, 30% "feel good stories" ("Awww, look - kittens!" type "news"), 20% of what is happening in America ("Golly gosh gee, that gasoline for my car shuuure is expensive! Back to you, Bob!") and about 10% spent on the rest of the world.

To find out actual news, and not the latest trend in fashion or a celebrity cameo, one must use the internet...

That means that many of us, Americans, who do not use the internet to connect to Reuters and Associated Press, as well as blogs run by unpaid volunteers whose mission it is to inform their readership of political and other news, are screwed - because TV "news" is worse than useless - it is a total waste of time.

The important stories are lost in the Entertainment Tonight updates and the weather...


The one story that is universally missed by everybody is the global food crisis. This is a worldwide phenomenon of rising food prices, affecting all the countries around the globe, from America to Egypt to Pakistan.

So here is the roundup of the news stories in the English speaking world concerning this crisis.

Lets start with American mainstream media on the web:
Egypt moves to appease angry workers
The article talks about a 2 day riot in Egypt, in MAHALLA EL-KOBRA, and the first part of the article does not talk about the causes of the riot, other than vaguely calling it "economic unrest". Then it proceeds to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood (an illegal in Egypt, fanatical jihadist/terrorist organization [most of the members of al Kaida in positions of power were from that organization]), even though the riots have nothing to do with the brotherhood.

Only in the 2nd part of the article, the reader will see "The worldwide rise in prices has struck particularly hard in Egypt" and "Unrest over food prices is not unique to Egypt.".

This was a riot specifically caused over food prices.

Next article:
Expect food prices to keep rising, industry says

Americans who dug deeper into their pockets for groceries last year will face sticker shock again this year when shopping for food, experts said Thursday.

Consumer food prices are expected to rise 3.0% to 4.0% this year after a 4.0% gain in 2007, said USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber at the U.S. Agriculture Department's annual outlook conference.

He added that "overall retail food prices for 2008 to 2010 are expected to rise faster than the general inflation rate."


Lets click the link in that article:
Global demand lifts grain prices, gobbles supplies
Soaring energy costs may be roiling the financial markets, but world governments are also being rattled by a more basic form of inflation: sky-high food prices.

Pakistan is stockpiling wheat and using its military to guard flour mills. Indonesian consumers have taken to the streets to protest rising soy prices. Malaysia no longer lets people take sugar, flour or cooking oil out of the country. North Dakota, the top U.S. wheat-producing state, may import from Canada due to tight supplies.

The world is facing the most destabilizing bout of food inflation since the "Great Grain Robbery" of the early 1970s when the former Soviet Union bought massive quantities of U.S. grain, sending prices soaring. That episode helped fuel a Farm Belt boom — and later bust — as soaring exports soured and record agricultural land prices fell.


Lets reread this beginning paragraph and let it sink in; lets take it step by step as that one paragraph contains more information than a 24 hour CNN "news" cycle:

Pakistan is stockpiling wheat and using its military to guard flour mills.

Indonesian consumers have taken to the streets to protest rising soy prices.

Malaysia no longer lets people take sugar, flour or cooking oil out of the country.

North Dakota, the top U.S. wheat-producing state, may import from Canada due to tight supplies.


Countries are stockpiling basic foodstuffs around the world, and using their military to guard their wheat, flour... sugar.

Do you think that the title of this article is alarmist now? GLOBAL food crisis - seems apt


What I find interesting is that North Dakota - is now the number one wheat producing state in the USA, when Kansas used to consistently DOUBLE North Dakota's wheat production (see here for the reports from years 1997, 1998 and 1999):

Wheat production in millions of bushels:
Kansas produced 432.4 in 1999, 494.9 in 1998 and 501.4 in 1997.
North Dakota by contrast produced 242.1 in 1999, 307.7 in 1998 and 269.3 in 1997.

What happened in 2008?
Article N.D. Bests Kansas in Wheat Production states the reason.
First, the reader has to go through the inane, stupifying blabber of a human interest story:
""There's always been that kind of back-and-forth rivalry that goes on between the two of us," said Harlan Klein, an Elgin farmer and chairman of the North Dakota Wheat Commission."

Yeah - thanks Mr. Elgin farmer man, that is fascinating!

Lets dig into the meat of the article:
"We are the wheat state. Nine out of 10 years ... we do produce the most wheat in the United States," said Marsha Boswell, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We give ourselves that slogan."

OK, so what happened?

Last year's crop in Kansas was decimated by disease and weather, particularly a late-spring freeze and flooding later in the season. Total production was pegged at just under 284 million bushels, a drop of more than 16 percent from the state's long-term average, Boswell said.

And there you have it. That is why North Dakota beat Kansas in wheat production - disease and weather disasters.

Is it possible that floods and wheat diseases in Kansas caused a worldwide food crisis?

Not necessarily, because other staple foodstuffs - like rice - are also affected. It is a BIG contributing factor, but not the main one.

So lets do that intelligence analyst thing and dig into the articles available on the web dealing with the global food crisis and see what is really causing it:

Crop switch worsens global food price crisis
Since the FAO's report in April 2006 tens of thousands of farmers have switched from food to fuel production to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. Spurred by generous subsidies and an EU commitment to increase the use of biofuels to counter climate change, at least 8m hectares (20m acres) of maize, wheat, soya and other crops which once provided animal feed and food have been taken out of production in the US.

In addition, large areas of Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Eastern Europe are diverting sugar cane, palm oil and soybean crops to biofuels. The result, exacerbated by energy price rises, speculation and shortages because of severe weather, has been big increases of all global food commodity prices.

To counter global climate change, countries are putting more and more crop lands and harvests into manufacturing biofuels - because the price of oil, and consequently gasoline is on a record high (no link needed - that is ONE story the US media stays on top of).

Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, said yesterday that land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. "This year 18% of all US grain production will go to biofuels. In the last two years the US has diverted 60m tonnes of food to fuel. On the heels of seven years of consumption of world grains exceeding supply, this has put a great strain on the world's grain supplies," he said.

"Land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs"

Thank You, Al Gore?


Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said this week that prices of all staple food had risen 80% in three years, and that 33 countries faced unrest because of the price rises. Zoellick urged rich countries to give the UN's World Food programme $500m for emergency aid. The bank plans to increase lending for agricultural production in Africa from $420m to $850m a year in 2009.

"33 countries faced unrest because of the price rises."

33 countries face unrest - riots - because people are starving.

As the bank predicted rice price rises of 55% in 2008, violent protests against the cost of living hit Ivory Coast this week. On Thursday President Laurent Gbagbo cancelled custom duties on imported staple foods and cut taxes on rice, sugar, milk, fish, flour and oils.

I realize we Americans are bad at math, but a price rise of 55% for your food is pretty substantial. Now, we Americans spend only about 10-15% of our wages on food, but countries with much poorer populations spent substantially more - imagine if you spend 60% of your wage on food, say in Ghana, and then in 2008 thanks to the biofuel craze, floods and disease in Kansas wheat fields and other factors (which I will talk about later in the article) to feed your family, your 60% chunk of salary spent on food will be increased... 90%.

And how will you pay for your housing needs, clothes for your children, school?

And this affects ALL countries now, but especially the poorest.

Lets see what happens in other countries - we already know Ivory Coast is hard hit.

In Bangladesh, where families spend up to 70% of income on food, more than 50,000 households are getting emergency food after rice price rises. A government source said: "One reason is that the overall drop in food production because of biofuels has prevented food being exported."

Many countries that switched from traditional crops to rice diets as urbanisation increased face serious shortages and have defied the IMF by increasing wages, lowering prices and banning exports. China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

There have been protests in Guinea, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Haiti, Bolivia and Indonesia. In the last two months Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, the Philippines and Thailand have stopped crop exports or raised prices to more than $1,200 a tonne to discourage exports.

Yesterday Philippine leaders warned that people hoarding rice could face economic sabotage charges. A moratorium is being considered on converting agricultural land for building housing or golf courses. Fast-food outlets are being pressed to offer half-portions of rice.

Wealth of info there. Lets take it slow and pick a few intelligence gems from this part of the article.

In Bangladesh, 50,000 households are getting emergency food after rice price rises, because the people cannot afford basic, cheapest food for their families. Government and voluntary organizatoins and UN is on the case.

China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

There have been protests in Guinea, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Haiti, Bolivia and Indonesia.

In the last two months Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, the Philippines and Thailand have stopped crop exports or raised prices to more than $1,200 a tonne to discourage exports.

Yesterday Philippine leaders warned that people hoarding rice could face economic sabotage charges - meaning you could be put in jail for storing rice and not selling it.

Which leads us to the next paragraph - the next part of the article is key; pay attention:
Robert Zeigler, director-general of the International Rice Research Institute, said it could be months before the market got a clear sense of how high prices could go. "The whole market could become paralysed. Who's going to sell rice at $750 a tonne when they think it's going to hit $1,000?"

My god. Businessmen and farmers are holding on to their production of wheat, rice and other basic foodstuffs, because the price of their produce WILL rise - and by holding on to them, make it a self fulfilling prophecy.

Buying low and selling high, at least as regards food, is now illegal in the Phillipines.


Next article:
'Perfect storm' nearly doubles price in three months
The 37-year-old, who leases a small plot of land in Samblong, central Thailand, knows the price of rice has rocketed - in some cases nearly doubling in three months - and that she is about to reap the benefit when she sells what her family does not eat.


But the price rises have a downside and spawned a new phenomenon: rice rustling. One night, one of Samniang's neighbour's fields was stripped as it was about to be harvested. Local police have now banned harvesting machines from the roads at night while on the northern plains farmers are camping in their fields, shotguns at the ready.

"I've never heard of it happening before, that people have stolen rice," said Lung Choop, 68, who grows rice on his smallholding. "But it's happening now because rice is so expensive. I guess I'll have to guard my own distant fields when they're ready."

My god!
This has NEVER happened before - people STEALING rice in Thailand, straight from the rice field, at night.

While prices of wheat, corn and other agricultural commodities have surged since the end of 2006, partly because of extra demand for biofuels to offset rising oil prices, rice held fairly steady.

Wheat and corn increased in price because of the biofuel craze, where (corn chiefly) is taken not to feed animals and humans but to produce fuel. It was inevitable that, even though rice is not used to produce much biofuel, it will rise in price because there is less overall foodstuff to go around - globally.

However, prices for the staple food of about 2.5 billion Asian people rocketed two months ago. Thai rice, the global benchmark, which was quoted at just below $400 (£200) a tonne in January rose to $760 (£380) last week.

Inevitable price hike. This article is from March 31, 2008, by the way.

Severe weather across Asia has also damaged production. Record icy temperatures were recorded in China and Vietnam, the latter of which also suffered a pest outbreak. Bangladesh endured a devastating cyclone while Australia suffered a prolonged drought.

It is not 'global warming', it is 'global climate change'. The whole global warming meme is too simplistic and designed for stupified Americans with limited to no science education.

There definitely IS a global climate crisis, however - so on that score Al Gore was right. The whole biofuels craze however - it is now causing a catastophe around the world, as you can see from reading the news articles linked to this blog post.

Analysis:
What we have here is the perfect storm, as one article called it, in food prices.

Because of the insane American policy in the Middle East, the whole Middle East region (and beyond) is destabilized - politically. The people in the region - Arabs - see America invading a country and occupying it, for oil access, presence in the region (ability to strike at others from bases in Iraq if necessary; in effect an ability to be a big bully and scare other Arab nations into pro-America policies) and last but not least, as I wrote about in my blog before, to keep Israel more secure.

The Arabs in the Middle East are ANGRY.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is driving oil prices to world record levels, which is good to Saudi Arabia and the Bush family both (Bush is at heart a Texas oil family first, and political family second). It is not just them of course - the oil interests are too entrenched in USA, UK, Netherlands etc. to be ignored and they want their pound of flesh (almost to be taken literally off the world's poor...)

Rising oil prices make people around the world look for substitutes to run their cars - anything to make that car go other than gasoline or diesel. This leads to biofuels, a terribly WASTEFUL process of converting crops into fuel for the cars.

This biofuel craze leads to prices rising first for crops from which biofuels are produced (elementary market 101, less production with same demand = higher price), and then the price rises for foodstuffs which can be substituted for those crops used to make biofuels.

Which leads to worldwide hunger.


To answer the question posed by the title - neither Al Gore nor George W Bush and partially, both are responsible. Both have blood on their hands - both are partially responsible for millions around the world suffering economic hardship and hunger.

Al Gore is correct in his alarm that there IS a global climate change, whether man made or because of natural causes is not important (for my money, it is both - certainly humanity is a contributing factor).

But biofuels is the WRONG way to try to solve this problem. This takes food away from humans and puts the crops into cars - it is a wasteful and inefficient way to use food (for the record, meat production is perhaps an even more inefficient way to produce food, as "Animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and 70% of its grain" - source Wiki).

Add to that overpopulation.

We are, in short, a very stupid and inefficient species.
Our decisions now are coming back to haunt us.

What will happen now
What will happen is that the rich, first world countries of USA, Western Europe etc. will continue to produce meat for their citizens, and continue to produce biofuels for their cars. Food will become more expensive, and while Americans and Western Europeans will pay more out of pocket for their food (an increase for Americans and Western Europeans from, say 10% of their salaries that they pay for food to, say, 15%), the poorer countries, where people pay over half of their salary to feed themselves and their families, will suffer. Suffer a lot. Many will go hungry.

Many will die - from hunger, malnutrition, rioting, wars.

This will destabilize the Middle East even more, making America even MORE hated (if that is possible) by Arabs; more, it will lead to more riots and more hardship around the world, in Africa and Asia specifically.


A perfect breeding ground for radical movements and terrorists.

A perfect spawning swamp for jihadi terrorists.


What should happen:

The following rosy scenario will never happen. Too many in power are making their family fortunes off the record price of oil, including the top tier of United States government officials, up to and including the current president.

What should happen is this:
The American government - Congress - makes a new grant to the majority of American universities (and perhaps foreign ones also) to research practical ways of taking oil out of the world economy in as many areas as possible. The intelligent president, having the interest of the nation and the world in his heart, immediately signs it - it is only a few billion dollars, the price of a few old F-16s...


Of course, that is a highly unrealistic scenario, starting with the fact that Congress will never make such a law (or at least an effective version of it) because the oil lobby money would guarantee the senators necessity to look for other jobs after next elections...

And the American president having the interest of this country, and even the rest of the world at heart - that is almost science fiction territory...

But let us hope...

Let us proceed with this scenario...

One must remember that oil is used not just for fuel in cars, airplanes, tanks etc. but also in many industrial and chemical processes - for example, plastics are made from oil.

What must happen is that we must wean ourselves from oil, as quickly as possible, and as efficiently as possible, as a nation and later on as the human race.

The United States could be a world wide leader in this enterprise, and it would benefit this country immensely:

First, by taking us off the oil "crack cocaine", we would save billions each month.

Second, it would make us less dependent on other nations, and perhaps we, America, would not need to prop up evil, tyrannical, anti-democratic regimes around the world in oil producing countries (I am looking at you, Saudi Arabia).

Third, it would catapult America into (again, for second time) a global technology leader, with American companies reaping a windfall off the new technologies (not just for cars but plastics production, etc).


A grant towards this nation's universities (and other nations' schools also, perhaps) would be a good first step on a way to (economic and political) sanity.

I am speaking here not as an American, but a human being - Terran, if you will.
A human being concerned about the whole human race.

...

But this will never happen, and people in the 3rd world will starve and die, and both biofuels and meat will be produced; we in America and Western Europe will pay a bit more for food and grumble a bit more.

Meanwhile the venal, criminally negligent ruling elites will make more and more money off this situation, granting them more and more power.

Bonus material:
And the hits just keep on coming.

A good webpage to see regarding this topic is http://www.climatechangenews.org/nFood.html.

Despite the partisan sounding title, all it does is link articles from mainstream newspapers from around the world (but mostly UK and USA) dealing with this topic.

Particularly interesting are these:
Australia's food bowl lies empty:
After America, Australia is normally the second largest exporter of grain, and in a good year it would hope to harvest about 25 million tonnes.

But the country remains in the grip of the worst drought in a century, which is why the 2006 crop yielded only 9.8m tonnes.

Global wheat stocks are at their lowest levels since 1979, and the ongoing Australian drought is one of the reasons why.

This is slightly bigger than Kansas, Dorothy...
This is the 2nd wheat producing country in the world, going from producing 25 million tonnes to barely 10 million tonnes of wheat...

Uganda: 1.5 Million People Face Starvation Due to Foods, Drought
And it goes on and on...


Time to start the alarm bells in worldwide "think tanks" and government offices.

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

My Camp-of-the-Saintsometer is redlining.

zfolwick said...

the gristmill has an interesting article that I believe is relevant to your analysis. (more hopeful)

it's here:
http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/4/8/214356/2005

Anonymous said...

Speaking of global crisis, around the year 2000, at the turn of the new century, there were American people believed that it would herald the so called "Thousands years of peace". Of course it was before the 9/11 and those very same clueless, Bible thumping morons would talk about rapture, "left behind", and the end of the world just a couple of years later. It was sad, but amusing because it showed that in general American people are total egocentric idiots. We're only knowing things when they happen in our backyard. If we're not at war then we think the world is also at peace. If there is snow in the winter then there are always morons declare that there is not global warming yet because it is still cold in their neck of the wood. No wonder many people are clueless about the location of foreign countries in the world map. And they elected a leader such as G.W.Bush who can not speak a good sentence. People may claimed about English only in the US of A but our leader certainly can not speak English influently. He is either a foreign born or a moron. I guess it is the later because a moron is certain good to lead a nation of idiots.

Laura Schofield said...

The food crisis in the US is greatly affected by subsidies in the Farm Bill that reward agribusiness for the production of commodity crops and don't really help out the small, organic or local farmer at all. This bill is currently being negotiated. The US Farm Bill has also dislocated many small farmers in countries like Mexico. I've put together a page with background info, current status and things you can do at http://hubpages.com/hub/What-is-wrong-with-the-farm-bill

Anonymous said...

http://hubpages.com/hub/What-is-wrong-with-the-farm-bill

Laura Schofield said...

I'm trying to give you the address of a page I've put together about the Farm Bill and its impact on food production (both in the US and globally). It keeps cutting off the full address though. If you go to my profile on HubPages at http://hubpages.com/profile/lschofield its the one called "What is wrong with the farm bill". Sorry for the multiple comments...