The nexus between climate change, peak oil and food production has been one of my interests for a while. Is it really possible we could see a "food crunch" sooner rather than later? Part of me finds this hard to believe. The shops are full of beautiful produce, and while food prices have been going up, they are still quite moderate.
On the other hand, as those affected by the floods in Queensland can attest to, the plethora of produce in our supermarkets can be a bit of a mirage which will vanish very quickly if there is a disruption to supplies. In our "just in time" culture, few people have food reserves at home or know how to preserve food. Are we more vulnerable than we imagine?
Parts of Australia, which is a major food producer and net food exporter, have been in drought for a long time. Even in my carefully tended to garden I am experiencing a significant crop reduction due to the heat wave. However, food is a global commodity, and the whole idea of international markets is that if one part of the world experiences difficulties in production, another part will supply the shortfall. Prices may go up, and that would be catastrophic for the many poor people in the world who are already struggling to survive. But could there really be a "food crunch" similar to the current "credit crunch"?
This morning I came across this article on global food production on Market Oracle. The following two graphics (quoted from the above mentioned article) show how most of the world's main food producing areas are currently affected by drought. It should make us all stop and think.
According to Market Oracle, the credit crunch, low commodity prices, drought conditions and low food reserves now all point towards a dramatic fall in global food production for 2009. The author predicts that many countries will respond to a jump in food prices with currency appreciation:
"Appreciating a currency is the fastest way to control food inflation. A more valuable currency allows a nation to monopolize more global resources (ie: the overvalued dollar allows the US to consume 25% of the world's oil despite having only 4% of the world's population). If China were to selloff its US reserves, its enormous population would start sucking up the world's food supply like the US has been doing with oil. "
That sounds very serious to me. Obviously, there is not much any individual can do about grain output and major crop failures, but I think I will go back into my garden and try to grow more food. I hope you will, too.