Population Matters

A Food Summit with Little Hope

November 16th, 2009

The World Food Summit on Food Security convened today in Rome, but a Bloomberg news story suggests that international aid agencies believe that the summit may be a “waste of time,” as no new commitments from donor nations are expected.  The lack of action comes despite a report last month from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicating a sharp boost in the number of chronically underfed people in the world.  Due to global recession and stubbornly high food prices, FAO estimates that more than 1 billion people in the world are now hungry.

The worst, however, is yet to come.  According to another Bloomberg news story published today, experts predict that rice prices could double again in the next year due to drought in India and cyclones in the Philippines.  The Bloomberg reported cited concerns voiced by several experts:

Rice may double to more than $1,000 a metric ton as dry El Nino weather shrinks output and the Philippines and India boost imports, said Sarunyu Jeamsinkul, the deputy managing director at Asia Golden Rice Ltd. in Thailand, the largest exporting nation.

Global rice supplies are likely to be tighter than last year, when food shortages sparked riots from Haiti to Egypt, said Jeremy Zwinger, president of The Rice Trader, a brokerage and consulting company in Chico, California. Escalating food prices threaten to spark unrest in developing nations while increasing costs for beer brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos., the biggest U.S. rice buyer, and cereal maker Kellogg Co.

“The demand-supply situation will be extremely tight, with India coming in the market,” said Mamadou Ciss, a rice broker since 1984 and now chief executive officer of Hermes Investments Pte Ltd. in Singapore. The Thai benchmark export price will likely rise at least 20 percent to $650 to $700 a ton in the next three to five months, he said. “The market can even touch $2,000 a ton in the middle of 2010,” Ciss said.

If these forecasts are correct, South Asia and other parts of the world could be facing a severe food crisis in 2010, one that could push tens of millions more–perhaps even a hundred million more people–into the rising tide of global hunger.  Those most at risk will be the world’s urban poor living on less than a dollar or two dollars a day in places like Mumbai, Karachi, and Manila.  Too bad world leaders are not listening to their voices today.  They will be next year.

And then there’s the long-term challenge.  The FAO projects that the demand for food will soar by 70 percent over the next 40 years.  By 2050, food production in the developing world will have to double, according to the FAO.   But how will farmers meet this anticipated demand in the face of global warming, rising energy prices, falling water tables, continued loss of farmland to urbanization, and increased drought and flooding due to climate change?   Good question.

One Response to “A Food Summit with Little Hope”

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