The bigger threat is a potential food crisis
Even as Iran’s nuclear program raises the likelihood of yet another conflict in the Middle East, the bigger threat is a potential food crisis in the making, says Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute. “When I ask myself, what are the threats for out security today, foreign aggression doesn’t make top five,” Brown told attendees of the Affordable World Security Conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
Grain yields are beginning to hit a “glass ceiling” in many countries, Brown said, where farmers have already taken advantage of what science has to offer for improving yield. As more and more countries hit an upper limit on productivity, the world grain harvest will begin to plateau, even as demand for food continues to rise, causing a rise in prices. More worrisome, the global food market is vulnerable to external shocks such as prolonged drought. “We don’t have idle land, we’re flat out,” says Brown. “We don’t have [food] stocks. We’re living harvest to harvest. The question becomes, what if we have a major shortfall in the world?”
An extreme weather event could tip the scales, he says. For instance, the heat wave and drought in Russia in 2010 reduced the country’s grain harvest by 40 percent, which tightened world supplies. If such a heat wave in the American Midwest were to have a similar impact on the much larger U.S. harvest, “we would have chaos on world grain markets,” says Brown. “That would affect financial markets, and financial stability in the world, which rests on confidence.”
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