Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Population explosion, rising food prices and sustainability (post for comment)

This summer we got news of global  food-rising prices.

What causes food prices to rise?

The supply of food has been diminished by bad weather in many crucial crop-growing areas of the world. Russia, Ukraine and Argentina have had severe droughts, while Pakistan and Australia have had massive flooding. At the same time, demand for food has been rising as people in fast-developing countries, such as India and China, have been buying more groceries. In addition, production and transportation costs have been driven up by the rising price of oil. Other factors involve currency fluctuations, food trade policies and financial speculation in commodities markets. Energy policy also plays a role, because ethanol makers are using more corn to produce fuel.

This brings us to the issue of world population vs. food production, an increasing concern for politicians, economists, sociologists and philosophers.

How can the world increase the rate of food production and still achieve sustainability? We have not contained the rate of human reproduction. Population increase exceeds the rate of food production and availability in many areas of the world. Nowhere is this more true than in sub-Saharan Africa, where 800 million people must subsist on local yields of one ton per hectare—one third of yields in the rest of the developing world and one ninth those of the U.S. and Europe. That means that a sub-Saharan African each person eats nine times less than what we normally eat in America! 

From Scientific American: Agriculture seems to be the main driver of most ecological problems on the planet. We are literally eating away the other species on the planet.
Agriculture—thanks to deforestation, nitrous oxide from fields, methane from cattle and rice paddies—is responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, making emissions from transporting food, known as "food miles," a "rounding error," said ecologist Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota. Pasture has become the dominant ecosystem on the planet, he added, and humans directly employ some 40 percent of the surface of the planet. "Very little of that is urban." In addition, agriculture accounts for at least 85 percent of human water consumption—a growing concern as aquifers diminish and hydrology changes in the face of climate change. Humans now use some 171 million tons of nitrogen as fertilizer every year, much of which ends up polluting lakes, rivers, streams and even the ocean. 
All of the above is tied to UNDERDEVELOPMENT, which is characterized as:
(...) resources not used to their full socioeconomic potential, with the result that local or regional development is slower in most cases than it should be. Furthermore, it results from the complex interplay of internal and external factors that allow less developed countries only a lop-sided development progression. Underdeveloped nations are characterized by a wide disparity between their rich and poor populations, and an unhealthy balance of trade.
Let's bring this discussion home. In many of the countries you guys come from, there is a lethal combination of factors playing all at once: poverty, lack of education, lack of infrastructure, poor or non-existent public health.

What can we do?

(This post closes Tuesday September 13 @ 11pm)