Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Doom and Gloom Looming

Global food security is one of the most serious concerns of our time. The global food system is at the root of many environmental and health crises. Synthetic fertilizers cause dead zones in our oceans. Fossil fuels hasten global warming while enabling harvests of wasteful and unhealthy foods. Mechanized, industrial farms decimate rural employment and lead to misuse of vital resources on a massive scale.

We currently grow far more food than is necessary. Only 43% of the cereal grains grown world-wide becomes food for people; 35% becomes livestock feed, and 10% goes to biofuels, high-fructose corn syrup and other processed products. One-third of food produced for human consumption, meanwhile, is wasted. By reducing waste and prioritizing crops as food, organic could feed the world even with lower yields.

A risk assessment produced by insurer Lloyd's of London indicates an apocalyptic destruction of mankind by the middle of this century unless global warming is successfully resisted. The report simulates three simultaneous disasters - a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia, and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle. All of these events are compatible to climatic trends and the impact is enough to cripple global food security. The World Economic Forum identifies food crises one of the biggest risks facing Africa in 2015, that governments haven’t paid enough attention to.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has sounded the warning that this year’s food production projections for Africa are likely to be far lower than last year’s, with most regions expected to post reduced grain harvests.

In Southern Africa, cereal production is projected to decrease 17% owing to irregular seasonal rains and an extended dry spell, which has been described as the region’s worst in two decades.

Accounting for the bulk of the decrease is South Africa’s maize crop, for which production is forecast at 10.5 million tonnes, a steep 30% reduction compared to last year’s harvest.

Zambia and Malawi’s 2015 maize harvests are estimated to be 21 and 26% below 2014, and poor rains have severely impacted maize production in Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland, the declines ranging from 13 to 43%.

But the hardest-hit is likely to be import-dependent Zimbabwe, which gets the bulk of its grain from its neighbouring countries largely South Africa, Zambia and Malawi. Zimbabwe’s own maize output is expected to fall by a full 50%.

In East Africa, late and erratic rains since the start of the cropping season in March impaired the production outlook.

South Sudan is in a particularly dire place, with FAO highlighting “alarming” food security conditions in conflict-affected areas, where the number of severely food insecure people has almost doubled to an estimated 4.6 million since the beginning of 2015.

West Africa as a whole will experience a slight increase in production, but the mean obscures local food security issues, the FAO report says.

The latest estimates put the 2014 aggregate cereal production in the nine Sahelian countries at 21 million tonnes, about 7% higher than the five-year average, thanks to solid outputs in Mali and other coastal countries.

However, in the western Sahel, large drops in grain production has been recorded due to poor weather.

Compared to the five-year average, cereal production is estimated to have dropped in 2014 by 83% in Cape Verde, 28% in the Gambia, 33% in Guinea-Bissau and 17% in Senegal.

Large areas of Chad, Mauritania and Niger were also affected.

And although Central Africa is expected to have better than average rains, continuing civil insecurity in the Central African Republic is expected to negatively affect the current cropping season.

It is argued that if Africa had more access global markets to buy food and make up for the looming poor harvests, then the risk of hunger can be averted. But the problem in the African context is that infrastructure and logistics is so poor that by the time food is imported and transported inland, the price advantage is wiped out.  One World Bank report indicated that along East Africa’s major transport corridors, there is a roadblock every 30-50 km. The bribes paid at the roadblocks and weigh bridges per truck ranged from $2.40 to $16.80, and adding costs of time delays to the costs of roadblocks, the prices of essential food staples increase significantly for local consumers.

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