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Full planet, empty plates – The new geopolitics of food security
By Lester R. Brown
Published by W.W.Norton
2012, 144pp, ISBN 978 0 393 34415 8 (Pb), US$16.95
“World agriculture is now facing challenges unlike anything before,” writes Lester Brown. “World grain carryover stocks have dropped from an average of 107 days of consumption a decade or so ago to 74 days in recent years. World food prices have more than doubled.” Such facts will be familiar to readers of New Agriculturist. Nevertheless, in this short, concise volume, written in just a few months of 2012, Brown brings the threat of famine and social unrest starkly up-to-date.
Brown exposes the business as usual approach to global food production, under which flat-line production is failing to keep up with steeply rising demand. Soil, water and amenable temperature are key to plant growth but erosion, emptying aquifers, drying rivers, erratic or failed rains and rising temperatures clearly prejudice the sustaining of yields, let alone increases. Even in established global granaries – US, Australia, Argentina and Russia – yields have suffered from drought and there appear to be no corrective strategies beyond restriction of exports and acquisition of land overseas to meet domestic needs. The land bought or leased is almost invariably in countries already struggling to achieve food security, with some, like Ethiopia, themselves dependent on food aid.