Monday, 21 April 2008

More bad news on rice

Well, the world has finally woken up to one of the things we have been shouting about at PowerSwitch for more than three years now - global limits being reached in the supply of food.
Of course there's more factors in this than rising prices of fertiliser and fuel, and biofuels (all driven by peak oil), such as climate effects and increasing meat consumption in China.

Wheat was the first to be hit, with drought in Australia, and the USA busy turning it into ethanol. But now rice has moved to centre stage, as it is the staple food for 3 billion people and is now in short supply. Here's the latest news:

Drought hits millions in Thai rice region

More than 10 million people in parts of Thailand's rice bowl region have been hit by drought, the government said Monday, causing further concerns as prices of the staple grain soar. Thailand's Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department reported that 55 of the kingdom's 76 provinces were struggling with drought, mostly in the central, north and northeastern regions.
Australia: Farmers fail to deliver on rice
Australian rice growers used to proudly boast that they fed almost 40 million people one meal every day of the year. This year, Australia will produce its smallest rice crop since 1960 and exports will collapse. Until 2002-03, Australia exported, on average, 620,000 tonnes of rice a year, or 80 per cent of what it produced. But figures compiled by Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics show the 2007-08 export crop will be 70,000 tonnes, with no improvement the following year.

Mr Helou said the world rice shortage, and price rises, had been driven by climate. "There has been a run on drought and negative weather patterns across many parts of the world, all happening at the same time."
Rice Approaches Record; WFP Warns of `Silent Famine'
Rice futures rose to within 0.2 percent of a record on speculation that more exporters in Asia may curb shipments to safeguard supplies and contain inflation, potentially exacerbating a global food crisis.

"If you're making $1 a day, $2 a day, somewhere near the bottom of the economic scale, a sudden doubling of the price of rice or of wheat is going to make it impossible for you to put food on the table,'' Risley said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "There's a risk of a silent famine.''
And these are the reasons we're seeing rising food prices in the UK, which will make it hard for the Bank of England to drop interest rates, as inflation will be zooming ahead. Not great for me and Tracy as we can't eat wheat.... so we went and stocked up yesterday, buying a couple of 20kg sacks of rice at a Indian wholesale shop. Should keep us going for more than 6 months.

But what's the answer for the people in the world who can no longer afford to eat? The only thing that would really make a difference on a big enough scale would be if all across the world we ate less meat that has been fed on grain. It take about eight calories of grain to produce one calorie of beef - not the most efficient way of feeding people. Chicken is more energy efficient, but still a net loss. Wild game is obviously a good choice, as it's been busy eating stuff we can't eat in many cases, but you clearly have to be careful not to wipe out any species!

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