NEW YORK - The current food crisis causing hunger and starvation for millions of people across the world is not going to end as long as those who dominate the international grain markets remain unwilling to change their behavior, according to experts specializing in international trade and environmental economics."
Business as usual is no longer a viable option," said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based independent think tank. "Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries can collectively mobilize to stabilize population and restrict the use of grain to produce automotive fuel."
In his latest research, Brown, an award-winning environmental analyst, points out that the unsustainable use of land and water, as well as trade imbalances among nations, are among the major factors contributing to the present crisis of food shortages coupled with a phenomenal soaring of prices.
"The chronically tight food supply the world is now facing is driven by the cumulative effects of several well established trends that are affecting both global demand and supply, " he told reporters at a recently held tele-press conference.
On the demand side, according to Brown, the trends include the addition of 70 million people every year, while some some 4 billion people are already struggling to move up the food chain and consume more grain-intensive livestock products. At the same time, the amount of grain used for car fuels is also rising immensely.
"Since 2005, this last source of demand has raised the annual growth in world grain consumption from nearly 20 million tons to about 50 million tons," he said. "Meanwhile, on the supply side, there is little new land to be brought under the plow" unless it comes from clearing tropical rain forests in the Amazon and Congo basins, or in Indonesia or the Brazilian Cerrado.
The Institute's research shows that new sources of irrigation water are even more scarce than new land to plow. During the past 50 years, world irrigated land has nearly tripled, expanding from 94 million hectares in 1950 to 276 million hectares in 2000. In other words, for the individual, the amount of cultivable land is shrinking by 1 percent every year.
Experts working with other international institutions, including the United Nations, more or less agree with Brown's analysis of the current food crisis.
Early this week, a report released by the UN's World Food Program (WFP) called for rich countries to contribute $500 million to address the issue of food scarcity that has led to riots in a number of countries in the global South.
The World Bank says at least 33 countries are currently in danger of political destabilization and internal conflicts driven by the rising prices of food. Currently, some of these poor countries are facing food price hikes up to 80 percent.
Like Brown, in a recent statement, Robert Watson, the former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and chief economist at Britain's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said the global production of food has increased, "but not every one has benefited."
Watson blamed governments and private businesses for paying more attention to growth in production than natural resources or food security.
"Continuing with current trends means the Earth's haves and have-nots splitting further apart," he said. "It would leave us facing a world nobody wants to inhabit. We have to make food more available and nutritious without degrading the land."
The 2,500-page WFP report says the world produces enough food for every one, yet over 800 million people go hungry. Its authors say food is cheaper and diets are better than 40 years ago, but malnutrition and food insecurity threatens millions nonetheless.
"The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments," said the report's authors. "[It is] likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050."
For his part, Brown is particularly concerned about the impact of U.S. policies on the growing food insecurity worldwide, and he is not convinced Washington has any plans to help mitigate the problem. "I don't think the U.S. has realized the seriousness of the problem we are facing," he told OneWorld.
"I am not sure they have any understanding of what is happening."
© 2008 One World