For most of us, the primary consideration relative to food is income. Do we have the dollars? However, the understandable focus on finances distracts us from the more fundamental food assets.
We rarely think of food in terms of farmland, water, fertilizer or an ever growing need for more chairs at the dinner table. Yet, the escalating scarcity of these agricultural assets is creating a global scramble for food.
In an informative report (3/10/15), Worldwatch Institute revealed that 77 nations (more than 1/3 of the world’s nations) import at least ¼ of the primary grains they need. This compares to just 49 nations in 1961. The report gets quite specific: “Food import dependence has several roots. One problem is the steady loss of fertile land and fresh water. In 62 countries, the area of farmland is insufficient to meet domestic consumption needs, and in 22 countries, the consumption of agricultural products (not just grains) requires more fresh water than each country can extract.”
The U.S. is not totally protected from this global scramble. Info graphic #1 shows the upwards trends in U.S. agricultural imports and exports. America is hooked on imports – particularly fruits and vegetables. On the export side – the U.S. ships slightly more out of the country than it imports. However, the kind of agricultural products the U.S. exports are not the same as it imports. No matter how you add it up, If America ceased to import and export foods, the shock waves in terms of food availability and farm economics could be dramatic.
The gravity of the food-trade doesn’t hit home until it is understood that the U.S. has no policy (or plan) as relates to keeping some food stocks off the market for security. Food produced in America goes to the highest bidder – even if it takes food from American dinner tables. In the worst food crisis America had (2008), basic grains were exported to such an extent that it caused domestic shortages and price surges. Unfortunately, there is also no globally co-ordinated benchmark (or effort) to maintain a safe level of stocks between production years.
Info graphic #2 shows global grain stocks in metric tons for the last 30 years. Included is the year 2008, when the world faced the greatest shortage of grains in modern times. The number of starving people increased from 850 million to 1 billion almost overnight. In 2008, global grain stocks equaled about 148 lbs. per person. Today, in 2015, it is about 155 lbs. per person. This modest (5 percent) increase in global grain stocks is being interpreted by the free market as an oversupply – time to financially punish farmers.
The world today is perhaps never more than a year away from some kind of food crisis – which due to our food interconnectedness can quickly reverberate around the world’s dinner tables. Will this increasing volatility in food make food gardening more compelling?