Global food crisis bites
Biofuel and meat off the menu as feast turns to famine
Since early 2020 we’ve seen a steady uptick in food prices, and now it’s reached crisis proportions. Not only are food staples becoming unaffordable for poorer communities, but there just isn’t enough to go around. Four years ago there was an abundance of food; now over 1 billion people are staring famine in the face.
How did this happen? Gradually, then suddenly. Covid-19 and climate change disrupted supply chains and bumper harvests; then the war in Ukraine and sanctions blocked grain exports and fertilizer supplies, while sending energy prices soaring. In a perfect trifecta of disruption, full silos could not be emptied, gas for fertilizer became scarce and costly, and fuel for planting, harvesting, and shipping surged.
Within months, 25 countries had banned the export of various food products, seeking to protect their domestic food security, which only made the global situation worse, while super-exporters like Brazil enjoyed a demand bonanza. Depressed yields due to flood or drought on three continents added to the crisis.
“This is a worse catastrophe than the covid pandemic,” said UN secretary general António Guterres, “and all countries must solve it together! We must start by ceasing the production of biofuel and biodiesel, and drastically reducing the grain we feed to [farm] animals.”
Reducing meat consumption and promoting vegetarian diets will go a long way to alleviating corn shortages, but cultural habits take a long time to change. More effective high-tech solutions are available, like indoor and ‘vertical’ farming, and producing protein with precision fermentation. Gene-editing crops can increase yields and lower fertilizer requirements.
All these remedies come with a cost, and the poor will suffer the most. But if we collaborate on a global scale, ramp up the technology, and fight this crisis the way we fought covid, perhaps we can create the ‘good future’ together.
And everything will be back on the menu.
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
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