Are Food Shortages Nearing?

I’ve tried to carefully phrase each blog to focus on sustainable opportunity, because I actually do see a very bright future … as people learn to live sustainably.  But the transition from how we live now to how we need to be living will likely contain some traumatic moments, as change can be difficult.

In an earlier blog, “Food, the Real Issue,” I described trends that will be affecting the world’s food supply, and suggested actions you might take to address the coming problem.

One of the trends I cited was China’s increasing food importing needs.  Due to a 25-year straight-line decline in food production, in 1997 they crossed from having a diminishing tonnage of exports to an increasing amount of imports.  The best case scenario said that, because of China’s size, the world would not have sufficient surplus to sell them – at any price – by 2016.  And their tonnage importing has followed that straight line.  But …

2016, even if it’s a best case scenario, is still a few years away.  And when we go to the supermarket, the shelves are still dripping over with a huge variety of foods.  I remember mentioning to a friend that 90 percent of the large ocean fish, including tuna and swordfish, are already fished out.  Her response …

“Nonsense!
I was at the market yesterday
and they had plenty of fish.”

Preventive medicine is a difficult sell.  If we don’t see or feel the problem, why should we spend time or money to address it?

I just saw an article in the New York Times that brought a clear “future trend” to greater immediacy.  Whether or not you’re a believer in global warming – and many people go back and forth on this question – Russia has had a particularly hot, dry year.  As a result, they lost much of their grain.  (See www.nytimes.com/2010/08/06/world/europe/06russia.html?_r=1.)

Well, Russia is a long way off.  And they have enough grain to feed themselves, but none to export.  And we don’t seem to be importing any of our grain from them.  So,

Why is this a problem with which we should be concerned?

Egypt has been the biggest buyer of Russian grains.  If they are unable to import any of those grains, where will they – and other importers of Russia’s grains – look, for other sources of grain?

  • China can barely feed itself – even with imports.  (Recall the riots in Urumqi, in their northwest provinces?  They happened due to food shortages.)  No exports from them.
  • India and Pakistan are sitting on the edge of being able to feed themselves – especially with problems they’re having with floods and water shortages.  No exports from them.

As countries that have been importing grain from Russia search for alternate sources, we’re likely to see the beginnings of rioting and more widespread starvation … some even predict “Mad Max” type of conditions.

And as those countries search for alternative food sources, food prices will surely begin to rise.  In fact, they could jump huge amounts.  Those countries are facing life-and-death situations that lead to wars against neighbors who do have food.  And unrest could also crumble their governments.

Bringing the ripple effect back home, if Egypt or others offered our agribusinesses many times more money for our grains, will they say,

“Oh, no.  We must feed our own people first,
even though they’re paying a much lower price”?

Or will they simply sell their food products to the highest bidder?  Given that agribusinesses are profit-oriented corporations, they’ll probably sell to the highest bidder, which means we’ll be paying a lot more for the food that remains on our supermarkets’ shelves.  My recommendations …

First, find and join a CSA near you.  I described them in the earlier blog.  There should be one or more near you.  You’ll get quality organic foods for less than what you pay now for chemically-treated food at your supermarket.  If we also have weather problems, a given CSA crop may not be as huge as we’d like, but you won’t starve.

Second, get a copy of Cody Lundin’s, “When All Hell Breaks Loose.” I looked at several of the “survival” type books, because I do hear many Mad Max scenarios projected as possibilities right here in the U.S. … mostly in cities, in which people are suddenly unable to find food for their families.

Lundin’s book is not fear-based.  No recommendations for being heavily armed, as violence only begets more violence and doesn’t really solve the problem.

In his book, however, he does have a thoughtful and carefully developed list of foods that you can get to feed your family, and that store for years.  He recommends having a four to six month supply of food, on hand.  So …

  • We finally joined a nearby Costco.  The food costs a fraction of what we pay at the supermarket, because it’s sold in quantity.  We’ve bought things that were on Lundin’s list that they had available.
  • We found many other items on his list on-line, and also at very inexpensive prices.  In fact, we have some excellent grains that will last for years.  And, when we grind them into flour, they’ll produce even better breads than we’re buying off the shelf.

We took a few months to build up to a six month inventory, so we didn’t wipe ourselves out, cash-wise.  On a unit basis, we’re saving money – even if the food shortages and price jumps never come.    And everything we’re getting is of excellent quality.  So if the forecasts for food shortages are wrong –  and I truly hope they are, though I see too much “writing on the wall” to ignore the signs – we haven’t lost a thing.  Either way, we’re in good shape.  Survival is prerequisite to sustainability.

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