Going green to famine

“Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years …

Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks …  Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels.

“The situation has deteriorated since September,” said Abdolreza Abbassian of the UN food and agriculture organisation. “In the last few weeks there have been signs we are heading the same way as in 2008.

“We may not get to the prices of 2008 but this time they could stay high much longer.”

However, opinions are sharply divided over whether these prices signal a world food crisis like the one in 2008 that helped cause riots in 25 countries, or simply reflect volatility in global commodity markets as countries claw their way through recession.  …

But other analysts highlight the food riots in Mozambique that killed 12 people last month and claim that spiralling prices could promote further political turmoil.  …

“The food riots in Mozambique can be repeated anywhere in the coming years,” said Devinder Sharma, a leading Indian food analyst.  …

Mounting anger has greeted food price inflation of 21% in Egypt in the last year, along with 17% rises in India and similar amounts in many other countries. Prices in the UK have risen 22% in three years.

The governments of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines have all warned of possible food shortages next year …

[T]he UN’s food price index rose 5% last month and now stands at its highest level in two years.

World wheat and maize prices have risen 57%, rice 45% and sugar 55% over the last six months and soybeans are at their highest price for 16 months.

UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, says a combination of environmental degradation, urbanisation and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors for biofuels is squeezing land suitable for agriculture.  …

“But the pressure on land resulting from these factors has been boosted in recent years by policies favouring large-scale industrial plantations.[“, he says.]

“According to the World Bank, more than one-third of large-scale land acquisitions are intended to produce agrofuels.””  “Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs

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