Two days ago, the newly appointed chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, Professor John Beddington, warned of coming food shortages for the whole world. In a speech given at the Govnet Sustainable Development UK Conference in Westminster he said: "There is progress on climate change. But out there is another major problem. It is very hard to imagine how we can see a world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous increase in the demand for food which is quite properly going to happen as we alleviate poverty." (quoted from The Guardian, 7 March 2008)
Professor Beddington also pointed out that as of two days ago, "global grain stores are currently at the lowest levels ever, just 40 days from running out." So what are global grain stores, what is a normal level of stores and should we be worried? According to the Energy Bulletin, "World carryover stocks of grain, the amount in the bin when the next harvest begins, are the most basic measure of food security. Whenever stocks drop below 60 days of consumption, prices begin to rise."
The Earth Policy Institute website has a number of graphs showing world grain production and world grain stocks from 1960 to 2006. The following graph which shows "World Grain Stocks as Days of Consumption" is quoted from their website. The graph shows that the previous low point was 56 days in 1972, and 57 days in 1973 and in 2006, with data for 2007 not yet available.
When I heard this report on the news the other day, I found it hard to believe that this information did not seem to make any impact whatsoever. Hidden among other topics such as football results and road accidents, it was just another soundbite in a normal news bulletin.
What would it mean if the world ran out of grain? For those of us who live in the developed world and who are so used to being able to get whatever food we want any time we want it, this is totally unimaginable. I guess that's why we don't even try to imagine it. For many in the developing world, this is already a daily reality.
It is also a scenario that Bill Mollison, one of the two founders of the permaculture concept, has been warning us about for some time.