Friday, June 28, 2013

Food security weakening "on a scale we haven't seen"

Laurie Goering at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Population growth, rising affluence, water shortages and climate change are combining to create unprecedented pressure on the world’s food supply - pressure that is likely to play out both as slow rises in hunger and as famines linked to extreme weather events, a leading agriculture expert says.

“We have yet to grasp what climate change means in terms of food security,” says Lester Brown, an environment and agriculture specialist and president of the U.S.-based Earth Policy Institute. “We’re looking at changes on a scale we haven’t seen yet.”

In India, for instance, to keep grain harvests growing, groundwater is being pumped for irrigation at a rate much faster than it is being naturally replaced. In north Gujarat, water tables are falling by 20 feet (6.7 meters) a year, Brown said. At the same time, India’s monsoon rains - vital for agriculture - show signs of shifting, this year coming at least two weeks earlier than expected and causing widespread deaths in the Himalaya region of India and Nepal.

As India’s population continues to grow by 18 million people a year, its wealthy turn to a richer diet, its poorest struggle to get enough calories each day, and its farmers battle more extreme weather, the country’s risk of food shortages is growing, Brown said in an interview in London.

“I think water is going to be the constraint,” he said. Countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq have already seen their water availability - and grain production - peak and begin to decline. Now “the question is what happens when that occurs in a big country,” such as India, said Brown, who last year published “Full Planet, Empty Plates,” a book on “the new geopolitics of food scarcity.”...

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