Consider these two realities. (1) The United Nations World Food Programme toils to keep millions of people alive (2) in the same African nations where affluent grain-importing countries like Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea are busy buying or negotiating long-term leasing rights on key agricultural lands.
As of mid-2012, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated or were under negotiation, some of them exceeding a million acres. A World Bank analysis of these “land grabs” reported that at least 140 million acres were involved - an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. This onslaught of land acquisitions has become a land rush as governments, agribusiness firms and private investors seek control of land wherever they can find it.
There was a time when if we got into trouble on the food front, ministries of agriculture would offer farmers more financial incentives, like higher price supports, and things would soon return to normal. But responding to the tightening of food supplies today is a far more complex undertaking. It involves the ministries of energy, water resources and health and family planning, among others. Because of the looming spectre of climate change that is threatening to disrupt agriculture, we may find that energy policies will have an even greater effect on future food security than agricultural policies do. In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilisation of our entire society.
Can we solve this burgeoning food crisis? Yes we can but not without the collective will to solve it and the willingness to accept the discipline, cooperation and sacrifices that mandates. Wake me when we get there.