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'Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Lester Brown, the president of Earth Policy Institute, warns that the world's current food scarcity imperils civilization. Brown argues that affluence in newly emerging nations has tipped the scales to new classes of haves and have-nots. "Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold," Brown notes in his recent study," Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food," Brown says.

Adding to the dwindling supplies of food, Brown points to "population growth, rising affluence and the conversion of food into fuel for cars ."

Mankind has also not been a good steward for Mother Earth. "On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth's rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system."

Brown says that mankind much change its tune, and quickly. "Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early twenty-first-century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study?"

Brown says that the last half of the 20th Century pointed to a better attitude towards food conservatorship." . the dominant issues in agriculture were overproduction, huge grain surpluses, and access to markets by grain exporters. During that time, the world in effect had two reserves: large carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) and a large area of cropland idled under U.S. farm programs to avoid overproduction."

Brown says that the world powers would step up to the plate, such as when the United States would idle more land. "When the harvest was subpar, it would return land to production. The excess production capacity was used to maintain stability in world grain markets. The large stocks of grain cushioned world crop shortfalls."

The main culprit imperiling enough food to grow around is the ever-growing world population "When this period of food abundance began, the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion."

By 1986, steadily rising world demand for grain and unacceptably high budgetary costs led to a phasing out of the U.S. cropland set-aside program. While the U.S. has some land idled in its Conservation Reserve Program, but "it targets land that is highly susceptible to erosion." The days of productive land ready to be quickly brought into production when needed are over.

"The bottom line is that it is becoming much more difficult for the world's farmers to keep up with the world's rapidly growing demand for grain. World grain stocks were drawn down a decade ago and we have not been able to rebuild them. If we cannot do so, we can expect that with the next poor harvest, food prices will soar, hunger will intensify, and food unrest will spread.

"We are entering a time of chronic food scarcity, one that is leading to intense competition for control of land and water resources - in short, a new geopolitics of food," Brown warns.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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