Grit Blogs > The Call of the Land

Extraordinary Circumstances Raise the Specter of Higher Food Prices and Famine

A-photo-of-Steven-McFaddenI called my 89-year-old mother on Sunday. As we talked she voiced a complaint. A can of green beans she had purchased for 89 cents over a year ago, cost her $1.59 when she bought the same brand and size over Labor Day weekend. She lives on a meager, fixed income from Social Security, so the price jump in food hit home for her as a hardship. Elsewhere around the world, for millions of people, the rising cost of food is becoming more than a hardship; it is a threat to their survival.

Perceiving that there are critical months ahead for the cost of food in general and the prospect of famine in particular, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has summoned the world’s grain experts to an ‘extraordinary’ session in Rome to address questions of global food supply. The emergency meeting is set for September 24.

The Famine - sculpture by artist Rowan Gillespie in Dublin, Ireland.

With memories still fresh of food riots set off by spiking prices just two years ago, agricultural experts see the potential for big trouble on the near horizon. Grain harvests in the USA are expected to be good, but there is big trouble in Russia, Germany, Canada, Argentina, Australia and elsewhere.

Uncertainty about future food supplies has drawn financial speculators into commodity markets in the hope that they might make massive profit. This is helping to drive food prices upward. As the prices go up, the potential for severe consequences also rises.

“The era of cheap, abundant food is over,” declares Australian journalist Julian Cribb in his new book, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It.

Cribb — and many others — say we have passed the peak not just for oil production, but also for water, fertilizer and land. We will all soon be brought smack face to face with the reality that we have passed the peak for food as well, Cribb argues with an onslaught of hard data.  Wealthy nations will experience shortages and even more acutely rising prices, while poorer nations starve.

Cribb’s proposed responses: subsidizing small farms for their stewardship of the earth, and paying them fairer prices for production; taxing food to reflect its true costs to the environment; regulating practices that counter sustainability while rewarding those that promote it. “An entire year of primary schooling” should be devoted to the importance of growing and eating food, he suggests.

Individuals can make helpful changes more quickly. Dietary change on a wide scale is important, and can be as simple as eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger and an apple instead of a bag of chips. Waste less food. Compost. Garden.. Choose sustainable food,

The prospect of upheaval in global food markets is also articulated in another new book, Empires of Food, by academic Evan Fraser and journalist Andrew Rimas. They write that we are not the first advanced civilization to have misplaced confidence that we’ll always have plenty.

Fraser and Rimas propose no easy solutions, advocating instead that we learn to store surplus food, live locally, farm organically and diversify our crops.

If these journalists, scientists, and economists are correct, and there is mounting evidence to support their view, then it is time to take action. In their books they suggest some sustainable pathways. And in The Call of the Land I have been able to set out dozens of other models and pathways. Since the book was published a year ago, even more models have blossomed — but those models need to be emulated widely and swiftly in every city, suburb and village. For all these reasons and more, I have begun an active search for financial support to write a greatly expanded second edition of the book, and to disseminate it widely.

carmin
11/14/2010 3:48:27 PM

I don't grow much but I do sell at a farmer's market. I don't need subsidizing what I need is for the government agencies to not include people like me in their rules and regulations "to protect the public" every time some huge conglomerate has a massive recall because they are only worried about profit, while at the same time exempting the companies who caused the problem to begin with. I eat what I sell. I have to because I don't have the money to be able to afford to buy what some one else grew because I'm afraid to eat what I grow, like the high-ups in those companies. I believe the government should promote "victory gardens", cut down on the rules and regulations that prevent many people from doing so and regulate companies like Monsanto that are buying up the majority of seed companies. That is as frightening a monopoly as you can possibly have. In the USA and many other countries food shortages can be prevented by changing the ways of growing food.


samantha biggers_1
10/12/2010 7:35:10 PM

I find it great that people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. For a short time the local grocery store chain had beef that said on the label that it was from the US, Canada, or Mexico. People were so outraged that the stores were forced to source their beef from the US only. It might not be grass fed but it is a step in the right direction. My husband and I are both 27 and raise our own meat. We are self sufficient on chicken and pork and should be on beef as of next year (it takes awhile to get a good cow herd going without loans). It can be hard sometimes. There are those out there that look at you like you are some kind of barbarian for being able to raise and slaughter an animal. I don't feel bad about it at all. Our animals have an extremely good life on pasture and one bad day.


samantha biggers_1
10/12/2010 7:31:23 PM

I find it great that people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. For a short time the local grocery store chain had beef that said on the label that it was from the US, Canada, or Mexico. People were so outraged that the stores were forced to source their beef from the US only. It might not be grass fed but it is a step in the right direction. My husband and I are both 27 and raise our own meat. We are self sufficient on chicken and pork and should be on beef as of next year (it takes awhile to get a good cow herd going without loans). It can be hard sometimes. There are those out there that look at you like you are some kind of barbarian for being able to raise and slaughter an animal. I don't feel bad about it at all. Our animals have an extremely good life on pasture and one bad day.


samantha biggers_1
10/12/2010 7:31:15 PM

I find it great that people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. For a short time the local grocery store chain had beef that said on the label that it was from the US, Canada, or Mexico. People were so outraged that the stores were forced to source their beef from the US only. It might not be grass fed but it is a step in the right direction. My husband and I are both 27 and raise our own meat. We are self sufficient on chicken and pork and should be on beef as of next year (it takes awhile to get a good cow herd going without loans). It can be hard sometimes. There are those out there that look at you like you are some kind of barbarian for being able to raise and slaughter an animal. I don't feel bad about it at all. Our animals have an extremely good life on pasture and one bad day.


nebraska dave
9/26/2010 9:57:44 PM

@Steven, I agree with some of what Tom said. I’m really not too sure that meetings and conferences have done much to solve the world’s food problem. I’m more of a grass roots movement kind of guy. I see those in my city working in community gardens and more and more folks having their own small backyard gardens in the urban areas. I like to encourage those folks to expand and try preserving their harvest. Most that I have talked with are more than open to the idea of having a small pantry of food to be able to eat in case of hard times. The idea of growing food in one area and transporting it hundreds or thousands of miles to the consumer is a setup for some future failure. Don’t you think? I’ve just returned from a trip to Las Vegas to visit with my ailing father and I couldn’t help but notice the huge increase in truck traffic from my last trip two years ago. The oil consumption in cars has to pale in comparison to the fuel that trucks use to transport food and other goods across the country. Don’t get me wrong. I do love bananas and oranges that just wouldn’t grow here in Nebraska, but my goodness do I really need an orange or a slice of watermelon in the middle of winter? Seasonal eating and the anticipation of the time when they hit the store made the food even more special. Have a great day and enjoy the nice fall Nebraska weather while you can.


tom
9/21/2010 8:21:41 AM

It has always seemed funny to me that people cannot see that the compromises they have made in life has led them right to where they are. There is always some body out there coming up with ideas that is going to save everybody. The UN or the US govt or some corporation is going to save us from the crap they thought up in the first place. I have been a rancher and farmer all of my life. I have never taken a dime from the govt for any purpose. We do not use chemical fertilizers of any sort period. I do not use hormones or feed my cattle brains or anything else except grass. I honor the lives of the animals on my ranch even the ones I kill to eat. Now, the only reason I brought all that up is that I wanted you to know that I am not some guy who read a book, and your right about the fist shaking not having value. I am just trying to pick a fight. Every body has their little thing that they love about the way things are and they are willing give up everything else so they can have their way on that one thing. That is what I mean by compromise and that is what I mean by MORON.


steven mcfadden_1
9/20/2010 5:01:50 PM

Hi Tom, I see you are upset at everyone and everything. I hope you will find a healthy way to channel all of that steam and the obscurations it generates, and thereby make something good happen in the world. Shaking your fist at people you demean as 'morons' for what you imagine to be 'wasting time' is in fact a genuine waste of time. Good luck finding your way. - S.


steven mcfadden_1
9/20/2010 4:58:37 PM

Hi Tom, I see you are upset at everyone and everything. I hope you will find a healthy way to channel all of that steam and the obscurations it generates, and thereby make something good happen in the world. Shaking your fist at people you demean as 'morons' for what you imagine to be 'wasting time' is in fact a genuine waste of time. Good luck finding your way. - S.


tom
9/20/2010 10:28:18 AM

Here is an idea for your hero Cribb. How about remove all subsidies for everyone, especially corporate farms. Make people understand the realities of life. People need to be slapped in the face with reality. That will give them something important to talk about on their latest model cell phone. Also what kind of idiot has to be educated on food? Here is a way to educate the people who don't know about food. Dig a hole in the ground. Put those morons in the hole for a week without food. At the end of the week throw a loaf of bread down there. I guarantee that they will know the importance of food. Instead of wasting time teaching the party line on food, teach the children and people how to think for themselves so maybe they will be able to tell when they are being lied to.