Posts Tagged ‘Food’
Much of the world’s arable land is being farmed already, so the lion’s share of the increase will need to come through higher yields. In many places, yields can increase—if prices rise high enough to make investment in more-intensive agriculture worthwhile. Still, much of the developed world is approaching the ceiling of what is cheaply possible. Sub-Saharan Africa, despite its long history of food insecurity, is one place where yields could increase dramatically; agricultural basics such as good seed and fertilizer would go far in a region that the green revolution bypassed. Full article on the Atlantic Monthly here.
Found this through our horizon scanning colleagues, a book by ANU on China’s new place in a world lurching from crisis to crisis. Makes me think of the unfinished conversations we are having on a China-centered Asia (ChiAsia) and the different flows and how the hell Singapore should be placed on these new flows. Anyway, here’s a brief grab on what the book is about:
The world and China’s place in it have been transformed over the past year. The pressures for change have come from the most severe global financial crisis ever. The crisis has accelerated China’s emergence as a great power. But China and its global partners have yet to think or work through the consequences of its new position for the governance of world affairs. China’s New Place in a World in Crisis discusses and provides in-depth analysis of the following questions. How have China’s growth prospects been affected by the global crisis? How will the crisis and China’s response to it impact China’s major domestic issues, such as industrialisation, urbanisation and the reform of the state-owned sector of the economy? How will the crisis and the international community’s response to it affect the rapidly emerging new international order? What will be China’s, and other major developing countries’, new role? Can China and the world find a way of breaking the nexus between economic growth and environmental sustainability — especially on the issue of climate change?
You can download the entire book here.
The Economist recently carried a feature on countries buying up farmland overseas to hedge themselves against the new imbalances of the future …. food production and consumption. The OPEC of the grain world are the USA and Canada, accounting for 70% of the world’s production. And demand is increasing in food stressed countries of China, India, N Africa etc. Thomas PM Barnett’s recent article on the unflat world of global food production highlights the intensification of these imbalances. Here are a few quotes.
” Today, the average food product travels roughly 1,500 miles from farm to dinner table. Imagine doubling that journey — or more — by 2030, when the world is projected to consume 50 percent more food than it does today.”
“But here’s where the new rules really kick in: A 21st century dominated by advances in biotechnologies is sure to feature commensurate bioweaponization, including among the weapons wielded by transnational terrorists. As energy production becomes increasingly localized thanks to technology breakthroughs, expect global food transportation systems to become the preeminently vulnerable — and thus preeminently guarded — commodity network on the planet.”
How can we prepare to align ourselves in these new imbalances?
The Economist calls this ‘outsourcing’s third wave’, after manufacturing and information technology. I quote here liberally from Thomas Barnett on the food and water shift .. ” A lot of things account for .. skyrocketing food prices: bad harvests, immoral Western trade barriers, the rising price of energy, the diversion of croplands to biofuel production, and increasing demand from rising economic pillars like India and China. None of these factors can be easily curtailed. Indeed, several of them increasingly feed on one another.”
And how does it go from here? “Today only a small fraction of worldwide grain production is traded globally, 7% for rice, 12% for corn. Looking ahead, we’re likely to see those % rise dramatically, making the global food trade network as important as – and arguably far more important than – today’s global energy trade network.”
Food networks will resemble the global energy trade network, in that major supply sources will be located distant from its rising sources of demand. Previous posts on this topic here, here and here. A slideshare on this topic can be found here.
Wow, this is what I want to see for BOP. A case study on how to viably create rural wealth, especially in devastated areas. By piecing together a complex ecological puzzle, biologist Willie Smits has found a way to re-grow clearcut rainforest in Borneo, saving local orangutans — and creating a thrilling blueprint for restoring fragile ecosystems. Original TED link here.
How would we be able to scale this up? I remember one line of inquiry I put aside, on ecosystem services to restore natural wealth in a profitable people centered way. Looks like this is a signal to relook again.
I just got Thomas Barnett’s latest book, Great Powers. I flipped through it quickly and would spend this week devouring it. But one thing in the final chapter caught my eye, energy shifts and food shifts. Now, we ship energy from afar to meet local demand (Middle East to China, for example) while in the future with alternative sources, energy demand may be met by energy supply locally (wind farms, solar etc). There is a reversal that the Middle East knows will happen. Food shifts have gone the other way. Local demand used to be met by local supply, you ate more or less what was grown around you. Now, local demand is met by global supply, and there are many breakdowns that will still happen … price volatility, supply volatility, tariffs and export bans, supply chain pollution (like China’s milk scandal) etc plus food is a socially explosive issue if not handled properly.
In the FoW scenarios that I’m still drawing out, I’m faced again and again how new agriculture (includes oceans, marine farming etc) is becoming increasingly attractive as a competitive angle for Singapore to explore, given the rich biodiversity that is tropical Asia. Below is a map on world oilseeds and grains flow, from 2007. h/t to Thomas Barnett’s blog. A quick glance shows Argentina, Brazil big on exporting soy to China.
Looks like it’s time to do an update of the future of food. Increasingly more agricultural lands in poorer nations are being leased or bought up by developing nations facing a food crunch domestically. Spanish NGO GRAIN has published a list of ‘land grabbers’ and their activities here. You can get the large map as a download.
China’s land buys are close to its domestic market, more of a food supply security play. China is also buying land in Africa, and sending farmers there, so we might see China’s footprint in Africa increasing in the future? Japan’s land buys are more directed along her food traders. But S Korea is the eye popper here, operating stealthily, buying up more land than China, and being the largest land buyer so far.
In Singapore’s perspective, we do not have large-scale food traders like Japan’s Itochu, Sumitomo etc that can move up the value chain and own large tracts of land in China etc. Neither do we have large-scale plantation owners like the Wilmars of the world. Yet we sit close to some of the world’s most fertile and yet agriculturally unproductive lands. Money itself is not enough. Land itself is not enough. Management best-in-class practices is needed. Technology itself as I said in earlier posts is tempting but also not enough. It is the mixture of all four.
Update (8 Jan 09): Long overdue, here’s a clever graphic show of the Future of Food from Wired Magazine.
Jamais Cacio (Open the Future) wrote about the reality of carbon footprint in everyday applications; something as common as a cheeseburger. It hits home on the green issues that the world is grappling with.
Just learnt that the Institute of the Future (IFTF) will be coming out with a global food outlook and a map of the decade for 2020. Essentially we see the food supply web and the food security web coming under intense stress, at a time of both widespread obesity and malnutrition, and declining ecosystem-support. This should be fascinating to see what they come up with.
They don’t always get it right though. I remember their 2006 Map of the Decade they actually do talk about the ‘New Agriculture’ and even earlier some mention of shift towards organics etc. But they didn’t see this whirlwind of food crises hit. Now they are scrambling. But very few people caught this early on, I think the World Resources Institute’s Lester Brown did, but few listened.
I am one of the first speakers next week at a seminar on food technology, talking about Future of Food. I completed a similar one last week for another organisation, same topic. Food is hot, and it will not go away. There are some really provocative questions I can ask, and I think I will after all need to work in food security crises into my current food supply crises slides. More work, let’s see how much I can do, it is a busy week next week.
P.S. There’s an ill-recognised time bomb here, I observed that most of the management of agriculture policy makers and researchers around the world are old men. This is not to diminish or take away their accomplishments, which they have done well. But I realise agriculture is not sexy, young people both in the rural and urban areas do not want to take it on as a career. For example many of IRRI’s rice researchers are approaching retirement age, young blood is missing. And the world needs young men and women who have to figure out how to deliver more agricultural yields with less inputs, in a stressed environment.
I didn’t realise there was such a gulf in looking at the future. When I asked some European based futures ppl what their view on future of food was, they replied on going organic, a big firm no to GMOs and the slow food movement. The irony of this is over here in Asia, there is plenty of food stress going on in the system and going organic etc was not very high on the priority list, feeding people and preventing societal breakdown is.
I did up a Future of Food presentation last November, and to my surprise, it turned out to be a favorite and folks have asked for me to present it, and for the ppt to be shared.
If you like to follow the entire flow, here it is on slideshare.
Despite all the talk so far, and the Food Summit in Rome, I fear there has been little action or leadership shown. Food stressed countries like China, India, GCCs have started moving in their own ways on this.
Aside from food supply stresses, there are food security stresses. We have seen plenty of public discomfort with the presence of large corporations dominating the food chain. I saw a lovely map showing how all of UK’s many farms had to sell to only 5 conglomerates dominating the supermarket outlets … what I call the Wal-Martization of the food chain …. and this makes it open to abuse. There are many forms of this abuse, but the recent Sanlu melamine in milk (China), tainted rice (Japan) etc shows the weakness of the system. Is this going to change? How might it change in the face of public outrage and surveillance? That is worth going into, and of course my challenge is showing what this means for Singapore, hah hah. But that’s for later.
I came across this really lovely wordle website where you can crunch your research and out comes a word cloud, pretty nifty way of seeing where my research keeps throwing up leads, and if I am a little too heavy or biased. A 2 second glance to ‘get’ what I am talking about.