In the May/June issue of Foreign Policy, Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute writes about The New Geopolitics of Food.
Brown’s launching pad:
Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.
The bottom line? Consumers in the North will be the last to feel the impact of increasing commodity prices, while – as we know from food riots over the last few years – consumers in the South feel these impacts immediately. Positioning the acquisition of agricultural land in Africa by countries like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, Brown argues persuasively that we have now entered an era in which the food supply, rather than oil, will be the key geopolitical driver of the global economy.
Food Ark (National Geographic, July 2011) addresses a more mainstream audience and approaches the same challenge. Its tight focus is, however, on the increasing threats to biodiversity and on the key role of seed.
The headline for this comprehensible primer:
A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply—but we must take steps to save them.
What is of note is that both articles address non-scientific audiences and both explain the role of agricultural research, underlining the need for more of it. As “food security” hits the mainstream, it seems important that consumers understand the issues and the critical role that research plays. This may be a good time for the ag research community to get involved in further increasing public awareness. It’s not just about money; an informed press and public can create an environment in which challenges to progress can be more easily navigated. It’s called public relations.
Post written by Peter Bloch