Saturday, September 25, 2010

peak food soon?


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Ragblog | Will we soon experience a global peak in food production, similar to peak oil?

It is too difficult and too soon to predict a global peak in world food production, but it is easy to see that some such event cannot be delayed much longer, and is quite likely to occur within the next five years. This despite the fact that global grain reserves seem to be adequate for now.

The World Bank writes that "it is too early to make conclusive statements on the impact of the very recent global wheat price spikes at the national and household level." The FAO has likewise stated that there does not currently appear to be a crisis, but that it is concerned about the amount of volatility in food markets. And that volatility might bode ill for progress toward overcoming challenges like those laid out in the Millennium Development Goals being discussed at the U.N. this week.

"These recent global staple price increases raise the risk of domestic food price spikes in low income countries and its consequent impacts on poverty, hunger and other human development goals," according to the Bank.

Peak food is pretty hard to determine compared to peak oil, partly since so much of its production is local. Global food demand can restructure in its demand over time to accommodate a reduction in food supply. Those who are hungry will tend to shift their consumption to cheaper calories, often at the expense of its nutritional content. Globally, the wealthier tend to favor animal protein produced from grain, foods imported from afar, and in general less energy efficient foods.

Grains are the most important global food commodities to focus on because they provide such a large percentage of the world's total food calories, and because they can be stored and traded to reduce local food shortages. Wheat and rice are the top human food grains by tonnage. Other commonly used animal feed grains like corn are termed coarse grains. Wheat tends to be more used globally to prevent regional hunger, whereas rice provides cheaper food calories but is more often produced and consumed locally.