What’s Peak Food?

Peak Food is the moment in time when per capita availability of food in the world reaches a maximum and then begins to decline. As world reserve food stocks have now fallen to dangerous levels, and increased prices have failed to push up food production, it seems that Peak Food is here. When reserve stocks disappear, panic and hoarding will clear the shelves, adding to the problem.

But worse is to come as food production  goes into serious and sudden decline for the following reasons:

  • climate change
  • oil and gas shortages
  • cropland losses
  • crops used for ethanol and biodiesel
  • competition for water
  • falling fish stocks
  • population increases with millions in Asia eating more meat so needing more land per person when there is less.

Two of these factors – climate change and oil and gas shortages – could independently cause catastrophic reductions in world food supplies. But if they were to happen at the same time there could be world-wide famine.

The West is especially vulnerable because we have now become dependent on unreliable countries such as Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran for our food, just as surely as if the food was grown there. This is because our food production system has become totally dependent on oil to power the machines and trucks and to make the pesticides. Natural gas provides the nitrogen fertiliser that is responsible for about 40% of our grain yield.  If we have reduction in supplies that lasts for more then a few months, food supply would be bound to fall. No wonder that governments worry about oil security.

The U.S. already imports 60% of its oil, and a 2006 policy document from the European commission warned that reliance on imports is expected to increase from 82% to 93% by 2030 for oil and 57% to 84% for gas. This on its own would be alarming enough, but many oil experts are now saying that oil production will soon decline just at the time when demand from developing countries like China and India is rocketing. Thus, any shortage of oil that lasts for more than a few months would cause chaos and hunger in the West.

War in the Middle East, terrorist activity or the establishment of Islamic fundamentalist governments in important countries like Saudi Arabia are just some of the events that could trigger a crisis.

Fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel made from crops are seen by many politicians as one answer to oil insecurity, but to produce these crops is taking millions of acres of good land out of food production.

Climate change is already causing droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that are reducing yields in affected areas. Should there be large yield reductions in several parts of the world at the same time, or for more then one year running we all will be in grave danger because those world carry-over food stocks, that are supposed to cushion us from a bad harvest, are now dangerously low and would be quickly used up in a crisis.

Unbelievably, the world is losing over 20 million acres of productive land each year due to desertification, salination and paving over for urban sprawl, industry and roads etc.

The various threats to our food supplies are discussed in more detail in regular posts and news items under various categories.

My book, Famine in the West, shows not only how serious things could get, but also how we could use innovation and the abundant energy we receive each day from the sun to feed the 8 billion people of 2025.