The world is short of food… or is it?

As autumn begins, here in Britain food prices are in the news. The National Farmers Union (NFU)’s combinable crops advisor Guy Gagen says that wheat yields in Britain this year have been the lowest since the late 1980s. ‘Combinable crops’ are crops harvested by combine harvester. That means wheat, barley and rye, oilseeds, pulses and sugar beet. Important crops for us.

Journalists across the political spectrum agree about this story. Shiv Malik at the Guardian says that food prices are expected to rise after the second wettest summer on record. Jessica Winch at the Telegraph says that food prices are expected to rise after a poor harvest.

It’s due to the wet summer and that’s due to the Jet Stream. But it’s no surprise. Professor Tim Lang, who invented the phrase ‘food miles’, warned last year that we need a ’21st-century approach’ to feeding the world.

We in Britain can’t just import food. The United Nations (UN) says that this is a worldwide problem. The world is short of food.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
This entry was posted in agriculture, food, knowledge transfer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The world is short of food… or is it?

  1. petrel41 says:

    See also on Britain:

    Worldwide, it is often argued that the issue basically is not lack of food, but lack of transport to poor people and lack of money to buy food.

    • argylesock says:

      That’s a good article. I notice that it contains the same quotes used in the articles I linked to. I notice that when researching online for this blog post (after Jeff Randal on Sky News alerted me to the story) I found the source all these newspapers seem to have used. No surprise that they all used Reuters. I don’t know much about Reuters, how accountable it is to anybody, but it cerainly has a lot of power doesn’t it?

      I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of a worldwide food shortage either. Do you have any links to people saying that it’s about transport and money, not about actual shortage? Like you I’ve heard it said. I’ve also heard that war and political instability are key in causing hunger. In fact, after dashing off the post that started this thread, I’ve been wondering about the ‘world short of food’ idea. As you know, I don’t like jumping to conclusions.

      • petrel41 says:

        “More than enough food is already being produced to provide everyone in the world with a nutritious and adequate diet-according to the United Nations’ World Food Program, one-and-a-half times the amount required. Yet at least one-seventh of the world’s people-some 800 million-go hungry. About one-quarter of these are children. They starve because they do not have access to land on which to grow food, or do not have the money to buy food, or do not live in a country with a state welfare system.”

        There are more links, but just this one for now.

  2. Finn Holding says:

    Would the world be short of food if we didn’t waste millions, and millions… and millions of tons of it every year?

    Politicians are very good at telling us we need to produce more and more food, which in turn generates collosal profits for everone in the foodchain (as it were), but the insane amount of waste is never mentioned presumably because if we don’t waste we buy less and the corporations make less money. Or am I just being cynical?

    • argylesock says:

      Nowt wrong with being cynical say I! Yes I think food waste is a huge problem and not sufficiently talked about. Do you have any links to discussions of this issue?

      I’ve heard that under the 2nd World War food rationing system, British people’s health improved. Another topic for my to-blog list.

      • Finn Holding says:

        I don’t have any links but I’d very much like to see an informed debate at top level about how to address the issue. But I reckon any solution will be pretty difficult because the culture of ‘disposable’ seems to apply to everything these days, not just food but furniture, cars, electronics…

        I like the idea of a post about WW2 v. modern day eating habits, I’m looking forward to reading it.

        • argylesock says:

          You might want to look at the post about waste that I wrote this morning. I did look for info about wartime rationing and there’s plenty of that, but I haven’t yet found any that’s aimed at an adult readership.

          You’re right about the culture of ‘disposable’.

  3. Waste is a big problem for the top economies. Power and corruption is the problem for the third world. Is the fight against genetically modified corn worth the effort or are we now satisfied that no one is dying or the seed crop is worthless. We need to take a moderate path on this rather than get all exercised about this, that, and the other thing. Thanks for listening.

  4. EqFe says:

    Has Britain been self sufficient in food at any point in our lifetimes? I suppose I always assumed that it wasn’t, But I think that on a larger, global scale, it seems to me that the real issue is that we are facing overpopulation in many parts of the world, and the disruption in food growing, that is coming with global climate change will just make it worse.

  5. One of the things which always annoys me is the use of agricultural land in other countries (which themselves are short of food) to make sure we have “cheap food”. This is especially a problem in Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions, not to mention the fishing of their waters for European tables.

    This is not a “We are bad” post, because the majority of people are not aware of this happening.

    • argylesock says:

      Yes indeed. The ‘fine green beans’ from Kenya are an example in Britain. I want to research this properly. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that Lake Victoria has been badly damaged by using too much of its water to irrigate beans for us to buy. Then a lot of those beans don’t even get eaten, just pushed around British plates.

  6. petrel41 says:

    This is an Asian peasants’ view on this issue:

    Asian Peasants to Declare “World Hunger Day”

    The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and its members will organize simultaneous actions on the occasion of the UN FAOs World Food Day on October 16, to highlight landlessness and chronic hunger.

    The FAO said their official theme on October 16 is “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world. It says, it has been chosen to highlight the role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger. In addition, FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) calls on agribusiness to step up investment from Central Asia to North Africa. Furthermore, the two organizations called on governments to create an enabling policy environment that fosters private-sector investment.

    “We condemn FAO and ERBDs statement. This is a continuation of what was engineered during the Rio+20 Summit last June 2012 in Brazil. Under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme, both domestic and foreign investors, will be given legal authority to make it easy for them to further intensify land grabbing, to multiply plunder of available resources and step-up corporate takeovers of other vital sections of the economy,” stated Rahmat Ajiguna, APC deputy secretary general and concurrent secretary general of the Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA) based in Indonesia.

    Ajiguna said that, “This will further expand agribusiness that will only exacerbated landlessness, hunger, poverty, and increased environmental destruction. This will further undermine the people’s right to food, agricultural progress and rural development as domestic agricultural production program is locked up of neo-liberal globalization.”

    Land grabbing aggravates landlessness

    “Meanwhile, international NGO GRAIN has recorded 400 cases of large-scale agricultural investments all over the world while 38 cases is in Asia (excluding Philippines-China deals which was suspended) . Nearly 2 million hectares of land in Asia (particularly in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, China, Timor Leste, Indonesia and the Philippines) have been subjected to these investments since 2006. It has resulted in increased landlessness, displacement of people, violations of human rights and degradation of natural resources, thereby further worsening poverty and hunger among small food producers<” remarked Zenaida Soriano, APC Southeast Asia Coordinator and also the President of the National Federation of Peasant Women (AMIHAN) in the Philippines.

    Ajiguna added that, “In Indonesia, there is unceasing expansion of palm oil plantations in Jambi province. It invaded our forest and rice producing areas. There were around 259 permits palm oil plantations covering more than 1.3 million hectares and about 980, 000 hectares have been planted (Provincial Disbun 2010). In 9 villages in Mersam District in Batang Hari, 7,800 hectares of rice lands will be converted into palm oil. Palm oil plantation threatens rice self-sufficiency program of the government and Indonesian people would end up seriously hungry.

    Chronic Hunger

    Soriano mentioned that, “ In South Asia, six out of 10 people are hungry and eight out of 10 underweight children live. Nearly 42 percent of Nepal’s children under five years are chronically undernourished. In India, 410 million people were living in poverty and eight Indian states are food insecure. In Sri Lanka, about 4 million people are undernourished. Children and pregnant women are most affected. In Pakistan, 83 million people were food insecure. In Bangladesh, 70 million people are living in poverty and experiencing chronic hunger and malnutrition.”

    Soriano revealed that, “In Southeast Asia, 87 million people in Indonesia are food-insecure, of which 25 million are severely hungry. In the Philippines, one out every four Filipinos suffers from hunger. Of the 103.7 million Filipinos, 25 million are hungry. Worst, the floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters as well as state repression cause widespread destruction and force them to abandon their homes and farms.”

    World Hunger Day

    Ajiguna and Soriano announced that, “On October 16, the APC will declare ‘World Hunger Day’ on the occasion of the World Food Day 2012. We will do this to emphasize the real situation that the rural people are landless. That landlessness is worsening by large-scale land grabbing of local and foreign investors in agriculture which aggravates chronic hunger experience by the rural poor. Unfortunately, the world’s food producers are the most food-insecure and hungry people..Having no land to till makes them more vulnerable of hunger. Many of them, are seasonal farm workers.

    On October 16, the APC will simultaneously organize different activities across Asia. In the Philippines, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) will lead a protest in front of the Department of Agriculture. A peasant caravan against land grabbing in the City of San Jose del Monte in Bulacan will follow on October 17-18 and will culminate on October 19. In Sri Lanka, the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) will organize week of action in many parts of the country. In Nepal, different events in 45 districts will be organized by All Nepal Peasants Federation ( ANPFa). The Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU) in India will organize simultaneous demonstration opposing land grabbing in 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh while a People's Biodiversity Camp will be held in Hyderabad. Similar actions will be held in Indonesia, and Pakistan.”

    “We demand for a genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty to resolve chronic hunger. The victory of the Isabela farmers and its people against Itochu (Japan)s bioethanol plant is a concrete example. They were able to shut down the bioethanol plant. And they are now planting rice and corn in more than 1,000 hectares of land they reclaimed from EcoFuel. Meanwhile, the AGRA, together with other farmers groups in Indonesia, led thousands of peasants on January 2012, and mobilized in front of the Presidential Palace and Parliament, resulting to a special legislative committee to address agrarian conflict…. These actions are peasant-led and directly benefitted the local peasant communities. Let us continuously reclaim lands that have been grabbed and plant it with food crops," Ajiguna and Soriano ended. ##


    The APC secretariat

    217-B Alley 1, Road 7, Project 6, Quezon City, Philippines 1100

    Phone: +632-3793083 Fax: +632-4565727

    Email: Web:

  7. Pingback: World Food Day and World Hunger Day | Science on the Land

  8. Pingback: Food shortage and food waste | Science on the Land

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s