Global insecurity around food security
By Derrick McElheron, CNN
Hong Kong, China (CNN) — While nations debate what to do about long-term problems such as climate change and dwindling water supplies, two words send immediate shivers down the spines of government officials across the world: Food security.
A series of environmental disasters fueling a wave of food price volatility has given governments, “a much needed wakeup call,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist for the United Nation’s Security of Intergovernmental Group on Grains.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization will be holding a special meeting to discuss the issue and the recent volatility in Rome on September 24.
The meeting was called after Russia decided to ban wheat exports after a punishing drought wiped out 25 percent of its crop. Moscow’s decision pushed food prices up about 5 percent worldwide. Bread prices surged in some countries and triggered the deadly riots in Mozambique.
Massive floods in Pakistan also caused huge losses to the country’s crops, adding to the uncertainty in the markets.
“The pace in which prices went up, nobody predicted markets could turn so fast,” said Abbassian. “It’s been two months and we’re still struggling with it.”
Food security, in simple terms, is defined by the United Nations as food being available in sufficient quantities to reliably feed a nation’s population.
Market volatility is nothing new, especially when it comes to commodities. During the food crisis of 2007-2008, prices spiked dramatically: Rice surged more than 200 percent; wheat and corn jumped more than 100 percent. The cause continues to be debated, but the effects led to protests and deadly riots from Haiti to Mogadishu.
But the current market conditions are very different from a few years ago, said Hafez Ghanem, the FAO’s assistant director-general for economic and social development.
“(I)n the years ahead we’ll probably be seeing more of the turbulence we’re experiencing now because markets are set to become more volatile in the medium term for at least three reasons: a) the growing importance as a cereal producer of the Black Sea region, where yields fluctuate greatly from one season to the next; b) the expected increase of extreme weather events linked to climate change; and c) the growing importance of non-commercial actors in commodities markets,” Ghanem said in an interview posted on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization website.
If the next few years could be more volatile, the next few decades could be downright frightening.
“The most urgent issue confronting humanity in the next 50 years is not climate change or the financial crisis, it is whether we can achieve and sustain such a harvest,” said Julian Cribb, scientist and author of “The Coming Famine.”
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