World Resources Institute: Within 12 years food production will go down

For a variety of reasons, this report concludes that food production is likely to go down within the next 12 years, not up.

The World Resources Institute recently came out with a report that throws into doubt our ability to feed the 9.3 billion people expected by 2050.  To do that we would need to double food production over the next 40 years.

Industrial agriculture is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions (methane from livestock, fertilizers release nitrous oxide, machinery releases CO2, cutting down rainforests and draining wetlands increases CO2, and so on).  Trying to double agriculture would drastically increase climate change.

And already, climate change is reducing crop yields from drought, extreme storms, flooding, and lack of freshwater from over pumping nonrenewable ground water to grow food.  In the future, rising oceans will flood a great deal of highly productive farmland.

Agriculture also uses up 70% of fresh water, and the nutrient runoff from fertilizers creates dead zones that kills of all the fish, shrimp, shellfish, and so on, reducing food even further.  Yet meanwhile, growing populations will need more fresh water to survive.

In the Nafeez Ahmed Guardian’s article “Peak Soil: industrial civilisation is on the verge of eating itself: New research on land, oil, bees and climate change points to imminent global food crisis without urgent action” they cite additional reasons and suggest that food production might do down far sooner than the report mentioned above:

Over the past 40 years, about 2 billion hectares of soil – equivalent to 15% of the Earth’s land area (an area larger than the United States and Mexico combined) – have been degraded through human activities, and about 30% of the world’s cropland have become unproductive. But it takes on average a whole century just to generate a single millimetre of topsoil lost to erosion.

Soil is therefore, effectively, a non-renewable but rapidly depleting resource.

We are running out of time. Within just 12 years, the report says, conservative estimates suggest that high water stress will afflict all the main food basket regions in North and South America, west and east Africa, central Europe and Russia, as well as the Middle East, south and south-east Asia.

Unfortunately, though, the report overlooks another critical factor – the inextricable link between oil and food. Over the last decade, food and fuel prices have been heavily correlated. This is no accident.

Last week, a new World Bank report examining five different food commodities – corn, wheat, rice, soybean, and palm oil – confirmed that oil prices are the biggest contributor to rising food prices. The report, based on a logarithm designed to determine the impact of any given factor through regression analysis, concluded that oil prices were even more significant than the ratio of available world food stocks relative to consumption levels, or commodity speculation. The Bank thus recommends controlling oil price movements as a key to tempering food price inflation.

The oil-food price link comes as no surprise. A University of Michigan study points out that every major point in the industrial food system – chemical fertilisers, pesticides, farm machinery, food processing, packaging and transportation – is dependent on high oil and gas inputs. Indeed, 19% of the fossil fuels that prop up the American economy go to the food system, second only to cars.

But high oil prices are here to stay – and according to a UK Ministry of Defence assessment this year, could rise as high as $500 per barrel over the next 30 years.

All this points to a rapidly approaching convergence point between an increasingly self-defeating industrial food system, and an inexorably expanding global population.

But the point of convergence could come far sooner due to the wild card that is the catastrophic decline in honeybees.


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