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Harsh realities of global food situation


It is now a well-known fact that humans are depleting vital groundwater resources across the globe. But a new study shows one of the biggest causes of disappearing groundwater is the international food trade. About 70 per cent of freshwater around the globe goes toward irrigation. Researchers from the University College, London and NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies found that a third of the freshwater is drawn from the world’s aquifers-nonrenewable underground pockets of groundwater-and 11 per cent of that nonrenewable groundwater is used to irrigate internationally-traded crops. This means in time, the current type of food that’s grown will not be able to be produced, or we’ll not have the same productivity – showing and indicating that prices will increase.

As per latest assessments, global food production has been assessed to rise by 70 per cent by 2050 to cater for growth in the world’s population by more than 30 per cent. Can we achieve the target? Global food security is one of the most pressing societal issues of our time. Though advances in agricultural technology and expertise will significantly increase the food production potential of many countries / regions, yet these advances will not increase production fast enough to meet the demands of the planet’s even faster-growing human population.

A recent report portrays a chilling scenario: the cumulative impact of three disasters driven by climate change. The possible consequences are global food shock, resulting in food riots, ballooning prices of basic crops and significant losses in stock markets.

The risk assessment report, produced by insurer Lloyd’s of London – with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and vetted by academics from a number of institutions – shows how close humanity might be to a catastrophic collapse by the mid-century unless significant changes are made to curb global warming.

The scenario presented in the report examines what would happen if there were three simultaneous disasters – specifically a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia, and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle – all perfectly plausible phenomena given the current climate trends. The impact of these would be enough to cripple global food security.

A model, crafted by the Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, in the context of the report concludes that ‘in this scenario, global society essentially collapses [in 2040] as food production falls permanently short of consumption.” But this forecast is based on a ‘business-as-usual’ approach, one in which man-made climate change leads to a combination of increased flooding and extensive drought, with agriculture facing the prospect of functioning under water-stress conditions as early as 2025. However, if carbon emissions are slashed and agriculture adapts, this scenario does not have to play out. A timely warning indeed!

What is the situation right now? Are we in the safe zone? Certainly not, and there is no question of complacency. What are the options and alternatives? Tinkering with the prevalent models can to an extent be effective, leaving the gaps uncovered.

Assistance to fight hunger has a vital humanitarian role to play in countries which require help; yet this is not a sustainable solution. One has to go deeper to explore how a food-deficit country [e.g. Ethiopia, with more than 10 million people dependent on food assistance] can address its problems by relieving food insecurity of such other countries.

It is a fact that population pressure will continue to tip the balance against proper land and water management in many developing countries. While agricultural production is critical for any form of sustainable future, focusing on the agricultural sector alone without any regard for other important factors that influence food production is not the right course of action. Population programmes require to be integrated with the overall development objectives and then be linked to other resources so that comprehensive development turns into reality.

With declining food production and resource degradation, the strategic plan has to be incorporated with population concerns [viz. population growth, distribution and rural-urban migration patterns incorporate population]. For that matter, the community development strategy, which integrates essential social services as well as production resources, is welcome.

In parallel, sustainable development strategies [encompassing soil erosion and impoverishment, deforestation, falling agricultural output, and poor water management] need to be streamlined and implemented. These need to be coupled with rural agricultural extension schemes which provide credit, seeds, fertilisers and advice to poorer farmers. Adequate support has to be provided to research on integration of traditional and emerging technologies for food production. Local knowledge ought not to be ignored.

The question of integration with external markets is important in order to encourage farmers to form cooperatives as a recognised means of accessing urban and export markets – a balance between marketable surplus and marketed surplus.

Countries need to prepare a realistic and achievable action plan to deal with the volatile behaviour of food commodity markets and the decision has to be taken as to whether biofuels (being a key driver of rising food prices) targets and incentives are to be revised in a balanced manner and whether food export restrictions that destabilise markets should be permitted only as the last resort.

It is, in a word, optimal resource management that is capable of increasing crop yields, preventing land degradation, while providing sustainable livelihoods for millions of rural poor. National population programmes, on the other hand, should include comprehensive and accessible maternal and child health care programmes and family planning services not only to reduce the size of families and improve the health and well-being of the entire community, but also to increase food production.

There is a need to ensure protection of environment while easing burdens of the poor. The FAO has rightly noted that it is not only financial resources that are needed. Beyond the factors that exacerbate the current crisis, there is a whole series of fundamental problems that need to be resolved, in particular how aid is channeled and how to make it reach small farmers effectively, as well as reform of the world food security governance system towards greater coherence in the action of governments and development partners, the share of national budgets dedicated to agriculture and private sector investment. “It is vital, particularly in times of crisis, that support to agriculture is not reduced. Only a healthy agricultural sector, combined with a growing non-farm economy and effective safety nets and social protection programmes will be sufficient to face the global recession as well as eradicate food insecurity and poverty.”

In order to avoid the disastrous consequences of widespread hunger and even starvation in the years and decades to come, a firm commitment is needed to increase crop yields of land area, the nutrients applied, and the quantity of water used. The positive impact of such efforts will considerably lessen the severity of the food shortage and lift hundreds of millions of people out of a state of hunger and malnutrition, thereby preventing widespread starvation, premature death and social unrest.

So, when about 870 million people currently suffer from hunger and chronic malnutrition, economic and financial crisis, consequences of climate change, and decrease in the quantity of usable agricultural land worldwide, the situation is bound to worsen. It is time to be realistic while planning for tomorrow.

Dr B K Mukhopadhyay is a noted management economist, an international commentator on business and economic affairs and Professor, ICFAI University faculty of management sciences, Tripura, India.

30 Comments on "Harsh realities of global food situation"

  1. onlooker on Fri, 25th Aug 2017 6:43 pm 

    In order to avoid the disastrous consequences of widespread hunger and even starvation in the years and decades to come, a firm commitment is needed to increase crop yields of land area, the nutrients applied, and the quantity of water used. The positive impact of such efforts will considerably lessen the severity of the food shortage and lift hundreds of millions of people out of a state of hunger and malnutrition, thereby preventing widespread starvation, premature death and social unrest.=====Well, I hear in this article alot about what we should do. Of course how do we do this in an era where aquifers are being drained, climate change will worsen, soil erosion and desertification will get worse due to continued reduction in forest cover. Can Biogenetics be an answer? Who knows but the trajectory seems catastrophic

  2. Makati1 on Fri, 25th Aug 2017 6:58 pm 

    A food article from a financial site. LOL

    First any ‘facts’ about what it will be like in 2050 is pure bullshit spun to fit the author’s ideas or what he is selling.

    Second, yes there is a food problem that is getting worse. It is not a lack of food produced. It is a lack of proper distribution and use. Stop raising cattle for food and start using the grains as food for humans. The grain used to feed one billion plus cattle raised every year in the world would would feed two billion people. Ditto for the water wasted on them.

    Third, stop using potable water to produce junk that is not needed, like 90% of the shit in malls. Water is wasted in so many places for the only reason, that the 1% can get richer. They don’t care about shortages unless they cut profits.

    Nothing is going to change until the whole system comes crashing down. By then it will be too late. Interesting times.

  3. Davy on Fri, 25th Aug 2017 7:29 pm 

    Fourth: The rich in the Makati high-rises should spend less on themselves and more on the poor surrounding them instead of talking about how bad it is elsewhere.

    “Malnutrition pulls down Philippines’ ‘End of Childhood’ rank to 96th”

    “MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines barely scraped into the top 100 countries for a child to grow up in, according to the 2017 End of Childhood Survey….. Ranking 96th in a survey that covered 172 countries, the Philippines was behind neighbors Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, and marginally above Indonesia, 101; Cambodia, 117; and Myanmar, 112. The survey found the childhoods of many Filipino children were cut short due to death before the age of five, while many teenage girls became early mothers at age 15 to 19. The Philippines performed poorly on child stunting or chronic malnutrition, which affects more than 30 percent of children across the country; child mortality or children dying before they reached the age of five, which constitutes 28 percent of deaths per 1,000 live births; and teenage pregnancy, with the country’s 62.7 percent adolescent birth rate.”

  4. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 25th Aug 2017 8:11 pm 

    Feed them all on gummi bears.
    That’s what the kids wanna eat anyway.

  5. Lucifer on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 12:02 am 

    I want to be nice and say i hope humans save themselves from disaster, but somehow i don’t think i can.

  6. peakyeast on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 6:57 am 

    We have reached this level of food production with fertilizers, big machines, and lots of poisons. Poisons that you now find in the drinking water in many places – and in and on most food.

    The arable land is declining and resistant diseases on the rise..

    And btw. some of the rise in agricultural production is just inflating the crops with water using fertilizers. When you look at the actual dry content it has declined a lot – which must also mean that there is much less actual nutrients. OTOH we now get all those nice poisons into our systems which of course is a way of mitigating our real problem..

    The nutricional value of meat, vegies, fruits, nuts, and so forth has been in a steady decline.

    So basically we are swapping nutrients with water and poison in order to maximize weigth – probably because its so much fun hauling water around.

  7. Jef on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 7:40 am 

    We are not feeding the population right now never mind 30 years from now. The food that is available only keeps people from outright starvation but they are still dying from malnutrition. Even in the developed countries malnutrition is the main underlying cause of most disease. Giving someone a bowl of rice is not feeding them it is condemning them to a life of bad health and disease.

  8. Sissyfuss on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 9:25 am 

    The rational musings contained in this article are in direct conflict with the reality of overshoot in the present day. For the vast majority of humans the need to breed is the primary directive and the only activity that can give their miserable lives meaning. They can live in the most disgusting conditions but will continue to set the timer on the baby oven because of a complete disconnect between cause and effect. Only collapse can alter the path we’re on, not verbose documents that bespeak of solutions by civilized beings.

  9. Cloggie on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 9:43 am 

    “Only collapse can alter the path we’re on, not verbose documents that bespeak of solutions by civilized beings.”

    Siss just rediscovered his inner “Conan the Barbarian”.

  10. onlooker on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 10:20 am 

    Which is to say Sissy that whatever else we are, we are still physical incarnate types of animals

  11. Sissyfuss on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 12:12 pm 

    Yes OL, reptilian brains with godlike technology. And Clogocopian,we stopped evolving as a species with the advent of the atom bomb when extinction became possible. Or should I say the hydrogen bomb.

  12. Boat on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 12:54 pm 

    Food production takes money. The hungry have little to no money to pay for shipping let alone produce.

    Every country has droughts, floods and fires. Cooperation between countries during these events is a good thing. Decades of over population with no change in site is another matter. Subsidies for those countries should end.

  13. GregT on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 1:07 pm 

    How are things in Houston Boat?

  14. Cloggie on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 1:31 pm 

    “How are things in Houston Boat?”

    Boat is philosophizing about food production. Apparently boat has still a roof over his head.

  15. GregT on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 1:51 pm 

    Media reports are sketchy at best, as per usual.

    I’d really like to hear a report from somebody ‘on the ground’. Boat?

  16. Anonymouse1 on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 2:03 pm 

    Good luck with that Greg. Boatietard only knows what CNN and google tell him is real. His relationship with the real world is a distant one a good day. His mobile home park hasn’t been evacuated and wall-mart is still open, so, in his limited estimation, everything’s just fine…

  17. Davy on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 2:47 pm 

    1mouse, “Boatietard only knows what CNN and google tell him is real.” Kinda like you and Xbox live? 1mouse go back downstairs because adults are conversing here.

  18. Davy on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 2:59 pm 

    Did I just read 60 inches (1524mm)
    “Some models are indicating that final totals could range from 40-60 inches in some locations after a 6-10 day rain event.”

    “Not time to Let Our Guard Down With Harvey; Rainstorm Expected to Last 5-9 More Days”

    “According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s forward speed has now slowed down to about 2 miles per hour in a north-bound direction. Meanwhile, its shield of encircling rains is expanding to cover most of eastern Texas. These rains are very intense — producing accumulations of more than 1 inch per hour in many locations. And with Harvey stalling out, such heavy rains are expected to persist over basically the same region and at a similar high intensity for at least the next four days. After that time, Harvey is expected to persist and rains of lighter, but still flood-producing force, may continue to fall over parts of Texas for up to five more days.”

    “(Harvey has already dumped nearly 15 inches of rain on some locations. Despite this fact, NOAA is still predicting more than 20 inches of additional rain. Some models are indicating that final totals could range from 40-60 inches in some locations after a 6-10 day rain event. Image source: NOAA.)”

    “In other words, this storm is far from over. The main event, in which Harvey may ultimately produce historic rainfall totals, is just getting ramped up. So now is not the time to relax our guard.”

  19. Apneaman on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 3:09 pm 

    Heavy Damage in Texas from Harvey; Disastrous Flooding Lies Ahead

    Dr. Jeff Masters · August 26, 2017

  20. Boat on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 3:37 pm 


    I just see whats on local Houston tv. South Houston has had 15″. As you go farther south to Galveston there was 8′ of storm surge. My area about 50 miles north of downtown. We have had maybe 2″ of drizzle to light rain in the last 24 hrs. Our chance of flooding will be Monday-Tuesday if the storm moves East and then North.
    The good news is the drop of wind intensity. They project wind down to 35 mph by the storm gets closer to the house.
    Rain amounts should be 3″ today, 3 Sunday, 4 Monday and 2 Tuesday. If these projections are correct water drainage should be sufficient.

  21. Boat on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 3:43 pm 


    Not to much CNN. But yea Google is an outlet to national and world news from thousands of sources. You should try it.

  22. GregT on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 4:27 pm 

    Good job putting Davy in his place Boat.

  23. GregT on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 4:34 pm 

    And thanks for the update.

    A question for you Boat. Given your stance on not giving support to countries with unsustainable population numbers, do you believe that support should given to those people along the Texas coast, who live in unsustainable areas?


  24. Boat on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 6:25 pm 


    I assume your talking about storm damage.
    Before this storm there was already 22 billion spent by the US gov alone to subsidize insurance companies in the Houston greater area to help keep rates lower. The report singled out over 2,500 structures that had applied for damages 3-4 times. Obviously this level of support is unsustainable.
    So no, areas that flood all the time should be parks, gardens, etc.

  25. Sissyfuss on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 8:50 pm 

    Boaty, an ex girlfriend of mine living in Houston got trapped in an underpass that quickly flooded, completely submerging her vehicle and almost drowning her. This was in 1982. Sounds like you live in a poorly draining area. Good luck and keep floating.

  26. Boat on Sat, 26th Aug 2017 9:03 pm 


    Any country that fits the description of adding to overpopulation should be given time to implement a plan. China improved it’s outlook, other countries could also. The World having a frank conservation about population growth in the media would be a great start.

  27. Makati1 on Sun, 27th Aug 2017 9:48 pm 

    “10 “healthy” food labels, exposed (CBC Marketplace)”
    “Secrets of supermarket meat and fish: Testing the food you buy (CBC Marketplace)”
    “Greenwashing: Busting “eco” labels (CBC Marketplace)”
    “How “premium” orange juice is really made (CBC Marketplace)”
    “Healthy or junk food? Busting food labels (CBC Marketplace)”

    And on and on. This is a Canada based series, but applies to the US also, I am sure.

    I suggest that you start here:

    “Fast food chicken: Testing Subway, McDonald’s, A&W, Wendy’s & Tim Hortons (CBC Marketplace)”

    Bon appetit! ^_^

  28. Davy on Mon, 28th Aug 2017 6:24 am 

    makat, you may want to test any Asian food you eat for contaminants. It is well known Asia is bad about avoiding environmental regulations or no regulations at all. Cancer cities and red rivers are a testament to Asian growth.^<^

  29. Makati1 on Mon, 28th Aug 2017 6:39 am 

    Davy, my food is much cleaner and healthier than anything you buy in US stores. I see the butcher cutting it fresh. I also buy my fish, shrimp and crab live most of the time. As for veggies, they are not perfect looking, but they are not drowned in insecticide like in the US. Nor are they GMO. I have been eating Ps food for, hmm, about 10,000 meals so far without any problems. I do not eat fast food. Although I am surrounded by McDonalds, KFC, Subway, etc. I suggest you watch what you eat.

    Again, you have a weird picture of the true situation here. The only one you entertain is pure bullshit. Stick to your own problems. I don’t have any. Do you want a list of all of the FSA’s problems? I can give you a few thousand easy. LOL

  30. Davy on Mon, 28th Aug 2017 7:11 am 

    makat, your food is Franken food. It is well known Asia is a chemical dump.

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