Today Farmers Weekly printed the following article which was written by Peak Food author, John Gossop. It was entitled ‘Governments must build grain reserves’.
Strategic Grain Reserves
The world should be breathing a massive sigh of relief that the Northern Hemisphere 2008 harvest has yielded big crops due to excellent weather and growing conditions in most regions. The food shortages of 2007 were managed by the market, prices went up and the poorest people in the world had to tighten their belts even further, stretching out available supplies. Higher prices also encouraged farmers to produce as much as they could in 2008.
Food prices are now falling which is great news for consumers, especially the poor, but bad news for farmers, whose production costs have risen dramatically in the last year.
We should remember that both 2007 and 2008 were exceptional years and that food supplies are bound to be tight in the future.
The fundamental problems of a world population rising by 80 million a year combined with the better diets expected by the billions in Asia will mean that demand will rise rapidly while each year the world loses around 25 million acres of land due to urbanisation, desertification, salination and biofuel production. Scientists also predict that climate change will cause drought in major food producing regions.
However, the biggest medium term problem is that our food production system in now nothing more than a method of converting finite fossil energy in to a much smaller amount of food energy. This worked well when supplies of oil for power, and gas for nitrogen fertilizer were cheap, plentiful and reliable, but will not work when the opposite is the case. As fossil fuels are finite, at some stage our input of fossil calories will have to decrease and therefore so our will our output of food calories.
Food production and prices will be volatile in the future as climatic events become more extreme and as our energy inputs become less secure. Now would be a good time for governments to build strategic grain reserves to protect the public from the disaster that a series of poor harvests would bring. In the U.K., a 2 million ton reserve would only cost about £300 million plus fairly low storage costs. As most government projects £billions, this would be cheap insurance.