Sunday, July 16, 2017

Let's Talk Famine.

Over the past few days we've focused on mass extinction, climate change, overpopulation and the exhaustion of essential resources through over-consumption.

How about we move on to something else? How about famine?

Famine is the scarcity of food in a certain area or region. It's causes can be myriad. Crop failures is a prime cause and it's the one addressed in a recent report from Britain's Met Office.

We've had plenty of experience of crop failures. They typically involve some staple in a particular region that is hit by severe weather, usually heat waves and drought. Where we've been lucky is that major failures have affected just one producing region - Russia, Australia, the United States - which meant the remaining growing regions could make good most of the loss albeit at premium prices.

There has been limited discussion of what might happen if more than one growing region failed at the same time.  What if two of them failed, or three? Well, we'd be in deep kimchee, that's what.

The Met Office analysis finds that governments are underestimating the risks of multiple crop failures leading to global famine.

The group found there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize production could occur in China and the US – the world’s main growers – which would result in widespread misery, particularly in Africa and south Asia, where maize is consumed directly as food.

“The impact would be felt at a global scale,” Kent told the Observer. “This is the first time we have been able to quantify the risk. It hasn’t been observed in the last 30 years, but the indications are that it is possible in the current climate.”

An example of the kind of disaster that could occur is provided by the maize harvests that failed last year in Africa. Communities in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar were affected and six million people were left on the brink of starvation. A joint failure of China and America’s maize harvest would have a far greater impact.

Having studied the risks facing maize production, the group is now following up this work by studying climate impacts on the world’s other staple crops – in particular rice, wheat and soya beans – in order to assess how weather extremes could affect their production.

Right now there is a major drought impacting the wheat growing belt of the High Plains.

Some longtime farmers and ranchers say it’s the worst conditions they’ve seen in decades — possibly their lifetimes — and simple survival has become their goal as a dry summer drags on without a raincloud in sight.

“We’ve never been in this sort of boat, honestly,” said Dawn Martin, who raises beef cattle with her parents and husband in the southwestern part of the state, an area the U.S. Drought Monitor says is in “extreme” drought.

“We’re just trying to make it through and work it out,” she said. “There are a lot of people in the same boat. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The drought’s impact likely will be felt not just by farmers but also consumers, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. Agriculture in North Dakota is an $11 billion a year industry, and the state leads the nation in the production of nearly a dozen crops.

“It’s going to affect bread at the grocery store counter,” Goehring said, though he didn’t put a figure on how much costs might go up for shoppers. “Dry beans — navies, pintos — are going to be affected to a degree. Canola, that production is going to be cut, and that’s going to have an effect on vegetable oil.”

The problem isn't confined to American farmers either. Saskatchewan farmers are also reeling.

Saskatchewan farmers say drought conditions in some parts of the province are the worst they have seen in decades and higher operating costs these days will make it harder to bounce back.

Fields in some southern parts of the province are so parched that seeds have failed to germinate, leaving some farmers with little or no hay for feed.

There's something else our government needs to discuss with us, food security. With climate change threatening global production and raising the spectre of worsening famine, Canada should consider the need for making domestic food production - crops, fish, livestock -  a strategic resource.


Toby said...

Mound said, " . . . Canada should consider the need for making domestic food production - crops, fish, livestock - a strategic resource." I've been saying that for 50 years. Canada has an appalling agricultural policy aimed primarily at industrial farms and trade. Other than marketing boards there has been little attention to small family farms.

It's all about profit. The Fraser Valley sits on some of the world's most fertile soil. There was a time when family farms dominated. Now the land is covered in housing developments and shopping centres. It is considered better business to haul produce from California or China than to grow it locally. A video you posted the other day said that American food travels an average of 1400 miles. The 1400 is out of my memory and probably off a bit but you get the point. The industrial market driven food chain is a wasteful, counter productive system that is only sustainable by cheap - often subsidized - oil.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's best to leave your hands off of the controls. Billions will die and it will a bumpy and brutal ride. But maybe human civilization will survive in a much amended form.

I think the human species should go extinct and another species should give it a try.

Anonymous said...

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon 2:19, just a question. Do you have any kids or grandkids?

Anonymous said...

"Do you have any kids or grandkids?"

Yes, I have kids. Your point being what, exactly?

Anonymous said...

My favourite attack by Mound is when he accused me of fucking my dead sister. Classy guy!

The Mound of Sound said...

I can't recall accusing anyone of fucking their "dead sister." Fortunately many of those who'll be reading your slur have been following my blog for a good while and I doubt they've seen any sign of that sort of thing. I'm pretty sure I know neither you nor your late sister. Were you close?

Anonymous said...

You deleted all of your comments. I think you knew you had posted something despicable. But now you're going to double down Trump style? Whatever. This is not the way we behave in polite society.

Anonymous said...

Dis? I propose we put the Beef Barons and Wheat Kings on a path to new employment.

Toby said...

Mound, when it comes to food self sufficiency I think Canada is over populated. It is too easy to look at all our land and think we have lots of room for growth but it's just not true. We had serious famine during the 1930s with a much smaller population.

Where I live the orchards and produce farms have been decimated in favour of vineyards to supply the wineries and, of course, to build houses that enable more people to move here.

Anonymous said...

We need to feed ourselves differently.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, we do need to feed ourselves differently but there's a real learning curve we'll have to go through first. In my lifetime we've become intensely urbanized. When I was a kid we knew farmers, in my case my relatives, and we spent time on the farm and learned a bit about how crops are grown and harvested, how livestock are bred and raised, the basics of dairy farming. At least when we went to the grocery store we had some idea of how the stuff on the shelves got there.

With the rapid decline in the family farm that knowledge is being lost. Tending a greenhouse doesn't create an informed public.

Anonymous said...

Correct about the learning curve, MoS. Mine began three decades ago while reading THE HISTORY OF BEEF, and today- no matter which way I add up what I've learned- it equals veganism. We are made to live quite nicely on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. Eat to live rather than live to eat. (I loathe 'foodies'...sorry.) I'm not yet completely vegan but I know that we can all practice simple principles like the hundred mile radius challenge and Indigenous diets. Every bit helps our shared planet. The learning will come, the more we people exchange experiences and knowledge. Many in our world are too soft and excessive, and will learn too little, too late.

I'm not a prepper but I've learned to live lean, through pain and by choice.