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Food Insecurity

May 15, 2010

Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books:

Last year, a team of experts and strategic analysts recruited by Chatham House published their findings on ‘food futures’ and the looming threats that we should keep in mind. As one of them explained to me, food is now a ‘real security issue’, too long obscured by the government’s preoccupation with ‘terrorism and razor wire’. Their study identifies seven factors, or ‘fundamentals’, bearing down on the global food supply – of which Britain’s is a small part.

The first is the nature and extent of population growth: we are six billion now and by 2030 we’ll be eight billion; increasingly we are clustering together and most of us are now living in cities, which is also where most newcomers will be born. Urbanisation on this scale poses big questions about land use (housing v. farming) and the production of food by a minority for a majority as the gap between the two gets wider.

The second is ‘the nutrition transition’: generations that once lived on grains, pulses and legumes have been replaced by more prosperous people with a taste for meat and dairy. Crops like maize which once fed many of us directly now feed fewer of us indirectly, via a costly diversion from which they emerge in the value-added form of meat. Global production of food – all food – will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 20 years to cater for two billion extra people and cope with the rising demand for meat.

The third factor is energy: the industrial production of food is sure to become more expensive as fuel costs rise. It takes 160 litres of oil to produce a tonne of maize in the US; natural gas accounts for at least three-quarters of the cost of making nitrogen fertiliser; freight, too, depends on fuel. [More]

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