Graph of the Day: Global Wheat Prices-Business Week asks, Could Hunger tip the Balance?
February 24, 2011
In a major article highlighting global food crisis, Business Week lays it out:
The hunger that has roiled the Middle East was not caused by the whims of autocrats and cops. It began last year with crippling drought in Russia and later Argentina, and torrential rains in Australia and Canada…..
The deluges in Saskatchewan were so sustained and intense that farmers couldn’t plant some 10 million acres of wheat, according to the Canadian Wheat Board. “What is typically the driest province was never wetter,” said the governmental agency Environment Canada. Shrunken wheat harvests in those countries, along with cool, wet summer weather in the American Midwest that delayed the U.S. harvest, helped drive wheat prices at the Chicago Board of Trade up by 74 percent in the past year. Corn traded in Chicago rose by 87 percent during the same period. More recently, grain prices have spiked even higher because of yet another drought, this one threatening China’s wheat crop, the world’s largest. In that country’s eight major wheat-producing provinces, some 42 percent of winter wheat cropland has been hurt by a dry spell, according to Agriculture Minister Han Changfu.
The final test posed by the current crisis is the toughest of all. Scientists have been warning for years that carbon emissions from cars, planes, factories, and power plants would make the global climate warmer and more chaotic—altering weather patterns to make some places more prone to drought and others more prone to floods. And climate campaigners have been wondering for years what it would take to galvanize the U.S. and other nations into action. The newly ascendant Republicans in Washington won’t acknowledge the existence of the problem, let alone debate its solutions. But other leaders are speaking up. In South Korea, when President Lee Myung Bak launched a task force to study food shortages, he was blunt: “There is an increasing likelihood of a food crisis globally,” he said, “due to climate change.” Business leaders are equally frank. “The fact is that climate around the world is changing,” says Sunny Verghese, chief executive officer at Olam International, among the world’s three biggest suppliers of rice and cotton. “That will cause massive disruptions.”
Civilization has faced down pandemics and world wars—and has emerged stronger for having met the test. The current series of droughts and floods are not simply wreaking havoc on food supplies. They’re harbingers of life in a hotter and more chaotic climate. Could hunger, and the threat to power that accompanies it, be what finally forces political leaders to act?