Thursday, February 03, 2011

It's Official - UN FAO Food Price Index Shatters Record

Food, food, food - we're finally waking up to how critical the food supply is to global stability.

As predicted, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization food price index for January set an all time record and the future looks worse:

Global food prices hit a record high in January, the U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Thursday, adding that prices, already above the 2008 levels which sparked riots, were likely to rise further.

Up for the seventh month in a row, the closely watched FAO Food Price Index touched its highest since records began in 1990, in nominal terms, and topped the high of 224.1 in June 2008, during the food crisis of 2007/08.

The index, which measures monthly price changes for a food basket composed of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 230.7 points in January, up from 223.1 points in December.

Surging food prices have come back into the spotlight after they helped fuelled protests that toppled Tunisia's president in January. Food inflation has also been among the root causes of protests in Egypt and Jordan, raising speculation other nations in the region would secure grain stocks to reassure their populations.

Severe drought in the Black Sea last year, heavy rains in Australia and dry weather in Argentina and anticipation of a spike in demand after unrest in north Africa and the Middle East has helped power grain prices to multi-year highs.

We need to get it through our heads that this is a serious problem, with serious and wide-reaching consequences and it's not going away anytime soon, if at all.

This video report from Reuters gives an idea of what we can expect to face in the coming decade.  


LMA said...

I read recently that the average Egyptian spends 40% of income on food, and that the poor depend on bread subsidies from the government. We must be living in a food bubble as well as a real estate bubble because if I had to pay that proportion of my meagre income on food, I wouldn't be able to afford decent shelter.

Once again, the inequity in the world is astounding with 10% of the global population suffering from obesity and 10% suffering from starvation.

As the northern regions of Canada warm, there may be lots more arable land in our country. Perhaps instead of investing in dirty oil as our economic future, we should invest in expanding agriculture? We would probably have surpluses which could help feed the rest of the world as well as ourselves.

I only hope I never have to grow my own food because then I would surely starve to death.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi LMA. What is surprising to me, perhaps even alarming, is how quickly troubles like global food shortages, severe weather events, freshwater depletion, etc. are setting in. Even as I wrote of these things four or five years ago, I thought we wouldn't really see their impacts for at least 20-years or more. If I got it all that wrong, what does that say for the 5 watt bulbs running our governments?

Unfortunately your faith in future northern agriculture is misplaced. Remember much of that region is Canada Shield with a lot of bogs, tundra and swamps but not a lot of land suitable for agriculture. Going back to the last ice age that terraformed those latitudes they've never had the centuries needed to develop productive soils. The tundra is very fragile and beneath it lies only water and granite.

Another factor frequently overlooked is that the warming won't tilt the earth's axis. That area undoubtedly will get warmer but it will never receive the sort of sunlight that has allowed agriculture to develop in the tropical and temperate zones.

Sorry amigo but we're screwed. Best move to Vancouver Island which, I figure, is the best positioned place in North America. Then again I could be wrong.

LMA said...

Yes, of course you're right, it takes centuries to build nutrient rich soils suitable for agriculture. These are the kinds of issues that our politicians should be grappling with, particularly with the Arctic transforming faster than predicted. There must be some productive use for the land other than mining and oil production.

No one knows how fast things will deteriorate, but once rising fuel and food prices kick in, the public will start to pay attention. I notice there are a lot of websites springing up for survival rations, and no doubt some are already making a handsome profit on sales.

I don't know about Vancouver, MoS. Apparently the ground around the Yellowstone supervolcano has been rising at an increased rate in the past decade. Maybe you folks out there will be needing gas masks instead of emergency food rations.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yeah, LMA, I've become interested in the geological history of Yellowstone. Yet, if a supervolcano did erupt there people to the west of it would far best. Let me explain.

I think it was when I got called to the bar, perhaps a few years later, my parents drove out from Ontario to visit us. Back then I had a lovely garden condo in Vancouver's False Creek area. I was preparing a Sunday brunch when - BAM - the earth shook. It was Mt. St. Helens erupting.

We got none of the fallout in Vancouver. The prevailing winds swept everything eastward. As my parents were driving home their car kept getting covered in the volcanic dust. It was incredibly rough stuff, like microscopic chisels. By the time they were back in Ontario the paint on their new car was chalk.

Point is, if Yellowstone does erupt, best to be well to the west of it.

LMA said...

If you are interested in Yellowstone, you might enjoy an interview with a New York physics prof posted on CNN 27/1/11. Given that the supervolcano would be 1000 times the magnitude of Mt. St. Helens eruption, experts are predicting an area of total devastation extending out 100 mi. and an area of massive destruction extending out 500 mi. I'm not sure if anyone can say whether or not westerly winds would have much effect on this area of damage.

This doesn't appear to be any immediate threat of course, but it makes me realize how idiotic we are to tempt fate by continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere when our existence on this planet is so precarious to begin with. Human arrogance, eh?

The Mound of Sound said...

The major contribution of prevailing winds is to carry (push) the toxic gases and particulate matter eastward. There's an immediate dispersal and blast pattern that's more evenly distributed but the long term destructiveness is in the gases and ash.

We've got our own problems including that 9+ scale earthquake that's due any time.