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"One poor harvest away from chaos"
Food, water, shelter are our basic needs.
That's why we work, such as carrying home the grain harvest by human energy.

Modern agriculture is mechanised. Tractors, harvest combines and elevators have replaced human power, the oxen, and windmills. Factory farms and feedlots have replaced husbandry. Our food is processed and transported endlessly.

All this has made us terribly dependent on fossil fuels. Declining oil production will therefore be a serious problem. We will have to rethink and change our entire system of food production, processing and distribution, simply because the so-called "renewable energies" - wind, solar and dams - produce electricity "only". Often, electricity cannot replace oil.

On the other hand the population keeps growing, 2.5 persons a minute, 75 million people more each year. And the question is posed "How we can feed this growing population?".

In our view it is impossible to continuously increase food production. A continuously growing population cannot be fed in the future. This basic fact cannot be changed by technologies, such as genetic modification. The proponents of genetically engineered crops "forget" that increased outputs require increased inputs, which in turn depend on soil fertility and fertilisers. Fertilisers are a finite commodity. Agricultural space and soil fertility are showing a tendency to decline, for various reasons. Because of the effects of climate change and the decline in resources (tractor fuels, fertilisers) food production will decline, all other circumstances being equal.

Temporarily, food production can be increased by certain political measures, such as:

  • Localise food production as much as possible, which reduces dependence on transportation.
  • Ban speculation on staple foods.
  • Stop using land for production of bio-fuels.
  • Stop food exports beyond 100 km (maybe less) This hould be done in any case, for a number of ecological reasons. But can this work for big cities like Berlin, London, Paris, New York, Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), Tokyo, Hongkong, or even the smaller ones like Amsterdam, Geneva, Vancouver? Virtually all cities are heavily depending on a large hinterland, not only for food but also for fossil energies and minerals.
  • Offer credit in the form of seeds and tools - allow repayment of the credit in the form of seeds and produce.
  • Redistribute land to small scale food producers.
  • Arrest all and any farm land to "other" use conversions.
    This would amount to a stop growth measure. No more fertile land to be sacrificed to roads, railways, factories, suburban developments. This would be a revolution in public policy, the admission that economic growth has to stop, not only since all resources are finite but also in order to feed the people.
  • Change over to more vegetarian lifestyles.
    When this was recently suggested to the public in Great Britain it sparked a storm of debate and protest, understandably.
  • Manage water sustainably. Avoid using water for industrial purposes when it's required for agriculture, e.g. in India, Kenya. Reduce unsustainable use of aquifers. Compare for example The oasis’s life blood: The Nubian Aquifer System.
  • Prevent desertification, erosion and siltation by faulty tilling and irrigation practices.
  • Convert to organic farming, avoid monocultures, leave natural spaces for birds and insects for natural pest control. Recycle agricultural and human "wastes" as fertiliser.
  • Do not convert forests into farmland or cash crop forestry! Forests are an indispensible part of the natural balances. They regulate water flows and the climate. No forests - no normal rain patterns. Wildlife without forests will invade the farmlands, villages and cities, and finally be killed. Planted forests for palm oil and wood production destroy biodiversity.

    Such measures, however, will not increase food production continuously. Therefore we must stop population growth. We have no choice. If we don't achieve this by positive action, incentives for small, one child families, "nature" will act. A population that has overshot its resource base (food and minerals) will collapse and the balances will be restored. Collapse means famine, illness, starvation.

    "Soylent Green" (1973) pictured a world that we are approaching today. Compare the wikipedia entry and an excerpt of Harry Harrison's novel Make Room.

    This is not something that people will easily swallow. But facing realities will allow changing policies before the catastrophe. One should bear in mind that technology (yet to be invented) and money and optimism cannot recreate resources that have been depleted. Old-growth forests, eroded soils, depleted fossil fuels and fossil water cannot be recreated by technology. Nor can they be replaced by so-called "renewable energies" (wind, water, solar panels).

    Therefore, instead of asking how we can feed a growing population we must ask how can we stop population growth and achieve a population contraction.

    People easily label ecology advocates as eco-dictators. So it's important to point out that measures are really necessary for socio-ecological reasons, that there are no valid alternatives and that it's part of a whole concept that is democratically decided upon. People must be involved in the process, understand the issues and get the opportunity for real input. The debate must not be high-jacked by people who represent particular class interests.

    Helmut Lubbers
  • "One poor harvest away from chaos"

    By original: 17 Jan 2011 12:12 PM PST (Copyright notice)

    'One poor harvest away from chaos' Millions of the world’s poorest people and the state of the global economy are threatened by the food price rises, writes Geoffrey Lean.

    Hunger pains Photo: Getty ImagesBy Geoffrey Lean 7:19PM GMT 07 Jan 2011 87 Comments 'Within a decade," promised the top representative of the world's mightiest country, "no man, woman or child will go to bed hungry."

    Dr Henry Kissinger, at the height of his powers as US Secretary of State, was speaking to the landmark 1974 World Food Conference. Since then, the number of hungry people worldwide has almost exactly doubled: from 460 million to 925 million.

    And this week the airwaves have been full of warnings that the formidable figure could be about to increase further, as a new food crisis takes hold. Some experts warned that the world could be on the verge of a "nightmare scenario" of cut-throat competition for the control of shrinking supplies.

    The cause of such alarm? On Wednesday, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that global food prices had hit a record high and were likely to go on rising, entering what Abdolreza Abbassian, its senior grains economist, called "danger territory".

    That is bad enough for Britain, adding to the inflationary pressures from the soaring cost of oil and other commodities, not to mention the VAT increase. But for the world's poor, who have to spend 80 per cent of their income on food, it could be catastrophic.

    Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, warns that the rising prices are "a threat to global growth and social stability", and Nicolas Sarkozy has identified them as a priority for the G20, which he chairs this year.

    Already they are higher than in 2008, when they drove the tally of the malnourished briefly above a billion for the first time in history, and caused riots in countries as far apart as Indonesia, Cameroon and Mexico. That ended nearly two decades during which the number of hungry people had stayed the same, while the world population grew by 1.2 billion, so that the proportion of an increasing humanity without enough to eat steadily fell.

    But the crisis of two years ago, and the one that may be unfolding now, are polar opposites of the one behind the World Food Conference. Then, bad harvests had produced a real shortage. Now, we have bumper crops: the past three years have produced the biggest harvests ever. The issue is not one of supply, but of demand.

    The mushrooming middle classes of India and China helped cause the 2008 price hike by eating more meat, which, in turn, mops up grain: it can take, for example, 8lb of cereals to produce one of beef. And cars contributed as well as cows. Biofuels transferred over 100 million tons of cereals from plates to petrol tanks: to fill a 4 x 4 tank requires enough grain to feed a poor person for a year. Speculation, too, helped drive prices up.

    The same factors are at work again, though fortunately the hungry are not yet as badly hit. This is partly because the price of rice, which feeds almost half of humanity, has remained relatively stable; and partly because it is mainly the higher-quality wheat and maize – eaten by the better off – that has got much more expensive.

    But things remain volatile, since the world has heavily run down its grain stocks over the past decade, and much of what remains is in China, which does not readily release them even when prices are high. So the present abrupt rises have been brought about by a harvest that is only 1.4 per cent down on last year, and prices remain unusually hostage to the weather.

    So if it is all so precarious at times of bumper harvests, what will happen if – or rather, when – we get a really bad one? That is what is worrying Lester Brown, president of the Washingtion-based Earth Policy Institute, whom I first met at the 1974 conference. A former champion tomato-grower – then an enthusiast for the Green Revolution, now a leading prophet of danger and one of the first to forecast the present situation – he is publishing a book on the issue on Wednesday.

    "The reality," he says, "is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos. We are so close to the edge that politically destabilising food prices could come at any time."

    Imagine, he says, if last year's Moscow heatwave – which sent average temperatures 14F above normal, and contributed to this year's smaller harvest – next hit Chicago and the Midwestern bread basket. The US harvest could slump by 40 per cent, sending prices "off the chart" and cause "the global economy to start to unravel". As the climate changes, such extremes are likely to be more common.

    Back in 1974, Kissinger spoke of the "thin edge between hope and hunger". A generation on, it is time to take it seriously.

    India’s leopards go out on the town

    It was about as long as a small leopard, the biggest of its species ever recorded in Britain. The 4ft predator, which gobbled down a family cat in middle-class Maidstone for its Boxing Day dinner, ended quite a year for the urban fox. In October, one killed 11 penguins in London Zoo; in August, two invaded bedrooms in Folkestone and Fulham to kill a kitten and bite a lawyer; in June, yet another attacked twin nine-month-old girls as they slept in Hackney,

    Worried? It could be worse. In India, the role of Britain’s streetfighter foxes is increasingly being filled by, well, leopards. Driven from their natural habitat by its destruction, drawn by the easy pickings of urban life, the big cats are now constantly spotted in the subcontinent’s towns and cities. Stray dogs are a staple diet, but the leopards also regularly kill people. Indeed, in June one even took on the Indian Army itself, injuring 12 adults and children near the gate of the military academy at Dehra Dun.

    Both foxes and leopards are aggressive, adaptable animals, and both are thriving. There are now thought to be 34,000 urban foxes in Britain, visiting more than a third of the country’s urban gardens at least once a month. And the leopard – which is also increasingly invading South African cities – has avoided the fate of, say, the endangered tiger: by one estimate more than half a million of them are at large. Could their motto be: “If you can’t beat them, eat them”?
    We have reproduced these article for scientific reasons only - because of the volatility of the internet. Copyright The Telegraph 2011
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