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Peak Water & Food? July 14, 2008

Posted by tkcollier in Enviroment, Food, Geopolitics.
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Lester Brown: Higher food prices are here to stay | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
The world’s total irrigated area stopped growing in 2000. We may have reached peak water before peak oil. It takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, but water tables are now falling and wells are going dry in countries that contain half the world’s people, including China and India, two of the largest grain producers.

An estimated one-third of the world’s cropland is now losing topsoil at a rate that reduces its productivity. As soil erodes and crop yields fall in countries like Mongolia, Lesotho and Haiti, their dependence on imported grain is soaring.

Beyond these resource constraints, the backlog of agricultural technology is shrinking. This helps explain why the rise in world grain yields per acre of over 2% per year from 1950 to 1990 has dropped to scarcely 1% per year since 1990.

Today there are 860 million people in the world who are chronically hungry and malnourished. For them, soaring food prices are life-threatening, as they already spend 50-70% of their income on food. Social unrest is spreading. The risk is that the number of failing states, already increasing year by year, will increase dramatically under the potentially unmanageable burden of soaring food prices and spreading hunger.

Restoring world food security means dealing with the trends that are undermining the world food economy. This goes far beyond simply investing more in agriculture, essential though this is. It also means stabilising population sooner rather than later. It means dramatically cutting carbon emissions to stabilise climate. And it means launching a worldwide effort to raise water productivity, similarly to that launched a half century ago to raise cropland productivity.

And, in the near term, it means relaxing the renewable fuel mandates in both Europe and the United States and withdrawing US subsidies for the conversion of grain into fuel.

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