Thursday, January 22, 2009

Researchers raise concern about fragility of the global grain supply

Planet Earth Online: A major study of the vulnerability of Chinese cropland over the past 40 years has highlighted the growing fragility of the global grain supply. The research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy, attributes drought and rapid urbanisation for this mounting exposure.

The UK team, led by Dr Elisabeth Simelton from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, used harvest and rainfall data to create an annual 'crop-drought vulnerability index'. An important part of this was an analysis of socio-economic factors that affect China's vulnerability to drought. As expected, the poorer landlocked regions were particularly sensitive to crop failure. What surprised the researchers was the exposure in wealthy coastal areas.

China produces 413 million tonnes of grain a year, or 18% of the world total. The country, which is home to 1.33 billion people, claims it is 95% self-sufficient for staple crops like rice, wheat and corn. But rapid urbanisation, particularly in the south-east and by the coast, means less land is available to grow food, and space in some areas is saved for more profitable crops. The team report this is increasing China's vulnerability to harvest failure.

…Experts predict that if China's recent urbanisation trends continue, and crop failure forces the country to import just 5% more of its grain, this would swallow the entire amount exported by the rest of the world. …'China is a country undergoing a massive transformation, which is having a profound effect on land use,' says lead author Simelton. 'Growing grain is a low-profit exercise, and is increasingly being carried out on low-quality land with high vulnerability to drought.'

I know -- this is the third time I've run this tremendous shot by Jialiang Gao, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2. It's such an arresting, beautiful image that I couldn't resist.

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