With falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures making it difficult to feed growing populations, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center stage in the global struggle for food security. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism?
Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider:
- There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night—many of them with empty plates.
- As a result of chronic hunger, 48 percent of all children in India are undersized, underweight, and likely to have IQs that are on average 10-15 points lower than those of well-nourished children. Food prices are rising dramatically.
- The U.N. Food Price Index in June 2012 was twice the base level of 2002-04. More than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted.
- A startling 80 percent of oceanic fisheries are being fished at or beyond their sustainable yield.
- Between 2005 and 2011, the amount of grain used to produce fuel for cars in the United States climbed from 41 million to 127 million tons—nearly a third of the U.S. grain harvest.
- In 2011, China consumed 70 million tons of soybeans, 56 million of which had to be imported. Almost all went into livestock feed.
Today, with incomes rising fast in emerging economies, there are at least 3 billion people moving up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock and poultry products. Data for India indicate that 175 million people are being fed with grain produced by overpumping.
For China, there are 130 million in the same boat. In Ethiopia, a prime target for foreign land acquisitions yet also a major food aid recipient, an acre of land can be leased for less than $1 per year. The 464 land acquisitions identified by the World Bank in 2010 totaled some 140 million acres—more than is planted in corn and wheat combined in the United States. It’s not all bad news: 44 countries have reached population stability as a result of gradual fertility decline over the last several generations.