December 1, 2011


Falling grain production exacerbates global food situation



World grain production fell, worsening the global food situation which is affected by rising prices, according to a new research by the Worldwatch Institute on November 29 (Tue).


Despite record rice and corn yields around the world, global wheat production dropped substantially enough to bring total grain output to just below 2008 levels.


"Production increased worldwide, but there was greater reliance on irrigation, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, all of which take resources, can be costly, and may cause substantial environmental degradation," said contributing researcher Richard Weil.


Nevertheless, preliminary data for 2011 indicate that grain production is recovering from the 2010 slump. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently forecast that cereal output in 2011-12 will be 3% higher than in 2010-11.


"Grain remains the foundation of the world's diet, and the failure of harvests in recent years to keep pace with growth in meat consumption and population is worrisome," said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. "It's important that we identify and implement more inventive and sustainable strategies in grain production. Reducing the proportion of grain harvests lost to weather disasters and waste or diverted for corn ethanol production and animal feed is among such strategies. It's also important that we prioritize grain availability for those who need it most."


Recent growth in agricultural production has been uneven, according to the research. In many regions, climate change has brought irregular weather patterns such as rising temperatures, violent storms and flash flooding. In Russia, where severe drought has plagued large farming regions, overall wheat yields plunged 40% in 2010, compared to a decline of only 5% worldwide. Subsequently, Russia banned all wheat exports, severely disrupting world grain markets. Poor weather took its toll elsewhere as well, El Niño in the west Pacific, for example, brought rice production down significantly in the Philippines, already the world's largest food importer, according to the research.


Rising demand for ethanol, which in US is produced almost exclusively from corn feedstock, is having an impact on grain prices as well.


"According to the CBO, about 20% of the increase in corn prices between 2007 and 2008 was due to domestic ethanol demand," said Weil. Demand for grains is also rising in countries such as China and India, where growing middle classes are adopting more diverse diets.


"Farming has always been an uncertain business that depends in large part on the weather, and it could be entering an even more difficult phase," said Weil. "As the global climate changes, the warmer, less stable atmospheric conditions could be detrimental for food production."


In an already fragile economy, continued volatile prices and unpredictable weather-induced shortages are sure to negatively affect both producers and consumers in developing countries, the Worldwatch Institute said.

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