Monday, April 21, 2008

Corn Wars and Food Riots

Here's a Monday kind of apocalypse - Corn Wars and Food Riots

Corn is a part of so many foods and in the production of food, from beer to eggs to bread and meat and now it's an element of the world's energy supply. A recent documentary, "King Corn" aired on PBS focusing on how much the world relies on it and so corn is one hot, hot controversy and commodity. It's all perfect storm-like as many nations are seeing something once reserved for 19th century history (or maybe for sci-fi future history): Food Riots.

A New Statesman article notes:

The EU, the United States, India, Brazil and China all have targets to increase biofuels use. But a look at the raw data confirms today's dire situation. According to the World Bank, global maize production increased by 51 million tonnes between 2004 and 2007. During that time, biofuels use in the US alone (mostly ethanol) rose by 50 million tonnes, soaking up almost the entire global increase.

Next year, the use of US corn for ethanol is forecast to rise to 114 million tonnes - nearly a third of the whole projected US crop. American cars now burn enough corn to cover all the import needs of the 82 nations classed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as "low-income food-deficit countries". There could scarcely be a better way to starve the poor.

The threat posed by biofuels affects all of us. Global grain stockpiles - on which all of humanity depends - are now perilously depleted. Cereal stocks are at their lowest level for 25 years, according to the FAO. The world has consumed more grain than it has produced for seven of the past eight years, and supplies, at roughly only 54 days of consumption, are the lowest on record."

International agencies are getting worried, and a slow but steady diet of gloom is building. Food riots have been reported in a growing trend. (See this report from Amy Goodman for more details.)

Is there a solution? Today, the KNS had several reports about farmers in Tennessee working to make switchgrass a bio-fuel success rather than corn-based ethanol. The scramble for new energy sources and the current uses of the food supply indicate that solutions won't be easy or quick or will take place without real human costs.

More and more, it seems that dire times are looming large:

People may think these are scare stories, but the price of rice has tripled this year to $1000 per tonne and global wheat stocks are at their lowest for 20 years. Last year we saw the so called ‘Tortilla riots’ in Mexico and only last week, the Bangladeshi government couldn’t buy any rice on the global markets. Not only does this create a more volatile social environment for many UK multinationals, but for food companies it also poses the very real threat that they can’t source essential raw materials at all."

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