From the U.K. “New Statesman”: “World cereal stocks are at an all-time low, food-aid programmes have run out of money and millions face starvation. Yet wealthy countries persist with plans to use grain for petrol. The U.K.’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation introduced on 15 April, mandates petrol retailers to mix 2.5 per cent biofuels into fuel sold to motorists. This will rise to 5.75 per cent by 2010.”
The concern is legitimate as biofuel from corn has proven to be very inefficient. The end cost is actually higher per gallon than gasoline.
Using our farmland to make ethanol instead of food is only a small part of the problem. There are other threats, such as wheat rust. A strain named Ug99 emerged in Africa in 1999. Despite containment efforts, winds carried spores to the bread baskets of the Middle East. It is now poised to infect prime wheat growing regions in Europe, Ukraine, Russia, India and Pakistan.
Should even one major wheat producer have a crop failure, the effect on the world’s ability to feed itself would be immense, which explains why crash programs to develop new rust resistant strains are now underway.
However, if Ug99 spreads swiftly, devastating crops before science can breed resistant strains, already grave food security problems will expand. So this isn’t simply a distant problem for poor nations, it looms over rich ones like Canada and the United States, too.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick has bluntly warned the world’s richest countries that a potential planetary catastrophe is unfolding with frightening speed. Jacques Diouf, head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, warns that with 37 countries are already in crisis and each day brings greater risk of global famine. India’s finance minister was more direct. “It is becoming starker by the day,” Palaniappan Chidambaram said. “Unless we act fast for a global consensus on the price spiral, the social unrest induced by food prices in several countries will conflagrate into a global contagion, leaving no country — developed or otherwise — unscathed.”
The consequences for the world’s poor are brutal: we drive, they starve. The mass diversion of grain harvests into ethanol plants for fuel is reaching its political and moral limits.
The UN says it takes 232 kilograms of corn to fill a 50-litre (about 13 gallons) car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted “massacres” unless the biofuel policy is halted.
Biofuels is one cause, but just one. The reason for food “shortages” is speculation in commodity futures following the collapse of the credit markets. Needing quick returns to offset the huge loan losses, dealers are taking trillions of dollars out of equities and mortgage bonds and ploughing them into food and raw materials. It’s called the “commodities super-cycle” on Wall Street, and it is likely to cause starvation on an epic scale because this competition is massively driving up prices.
The rocketing price of wheat, soybeans, sugar, coffee – you name it – is a direct result of debt defaults that have caused financial panic in the west and encouraged investors to seek “stores of value”. These range from gold and oil at one end to corn, cocoa and cattle at the other; speculators are even placing bets on water prices.
This is a bubble to end all bubbles and one that can only burst with the deaths of millions of people through starvation. The price of oil is not going to come down because the Arabs and Russians and Venezuelans, etcetera, are glorying in the huge rush of wealth. Oil drives food production. Commodities speculation and investment drive up prices right along with oil increases, which show no sign of stopping.
Profit-taking may doom the 2.8 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, almost half the world’s population, to pay for these profits with their lives, and long before then there will be wars.
When mass starvation sets in, which it will, disease controls and any efforts at sanitation will fall apart and plagues will roam the planet like they’ve always done in times like these.
The rise of Islam is going to have to take a back seat to global starvation. I don’t think all those super-rich sheiks in Dubai are going to open their purses to feed the starving masses of muslims, nor the Saudis, either, as their dreams of a new global Caliphate come crashing down when hundreds of millions of muslims begin starving to death.
They will, because the truth is that the countries that have been taken over by Islam are the most backward, worst managed and poorest in all the world, except for those that have oil reserves, and those people will be the first to starve. In Darfur, for example, it is muslims who are killing off all the Christians in order to Islamize the country, and in the process they are killing all the farmers who’ve been providing them with food. Those who still survive are without work or income and surviving in camps off what little charity they can get.
In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.”
Mother Nature always seeks a balance, and she always finds it. Most people in the “Have” nations will survive. In fact, they’ll hardly notice all the starvation while most of those in the “Have Not” nations die. Between the grain shortage, rising oil prices, increasing inflation and wars and pending wars, we are hurtling over the brink.