The world is on the brink of a food “catastrophe” caused by the worst US drought in 50 years, and misguided government biofuel policy will exacerbate the perilous situation, scientists and activists warn.
When food prices spike and people go hungry, violence soon follows, they say. Riots caused by food shortages – similar to those of 2007-08 in countries like Bangladesh, Haiti, the Philippines and Burkina Faso among others – may be on the horizon, threatening social stability in impoverished nations that rely on US corn imports.
This summer’s devastating drought has scorched much of the mid-western United States – the world’s bread basket.
Crops such as corn, wheat, and soy have been decimated by high temperatures and little rain. Grain prices have skyrocketed and concerns abound the resulting higher food prices will hit the world’s poor the hardest – sparking violent demonstrations.
Early dryness in Russia’s wheat growing season, light monsoon rains in India, and drought in Africa’s Sahel region, combined with America’s lost crop, mean a perfect storm is on the horizon.
Surging food prices could kick off food riots similar to those in 2008 and 2010, Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“Recent droughts in the mid-western United States threaten to cause global catastrophe,” said Bar-Yam, whose institute uses computer models to identify global trends.
Hopes were high in May of a bumper corn crop this year, but sizzling temperatures in June and July scuttled those predictions.
For about 600 million Indians who are dependent on farming, there is a direct correlation between ample rains and their disposable incomes, explaining the host of superstitions that survive around bringing rains, such as women ploughing fields naked and frog ‘marriages’.
NEW DELHI – TECHNOLOGICAL wizardry may have improved forecasting of the crucial monsoon rains in India, but success still remains, at best, patchy, making it tough for farmers to plan crops and meet demand in the trillion-dollar economy.
This year, the country has forecast a normal monsoon. In theory, that should mean higher farm output, which could tame food prices and help persuade the government to ease curbs on rice and wheat exports, benefiting other Asian economies that are struggling with food shortages.
In reality, since 1994, India’s weather office has only managed to forecast the June-September monsoon outcome correctly five times, discounting an error band of +/-5 per cent, while on seven occasions the extent of error touched double digit, Deutsche Bank analysts said in a research report.
From the world’s top producer and consumer of a range of commodities like sugar and grains, such uncertainties have huge implications for global commodities markets.