The New York Times reported today that "rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export." With prices doubling over the past few months, poorer rice importing nations have seen food riots erupt. Poor urban dwellers have been particularly hard hit.
Price increases have been attributed to rising affluence in India and China as well as to droughts that have reduced output elsewhere. Last December, the Economist ran a pretty thorough background piece on the cause of rising food prices and shortages. The Economist also attributed shortages to rising incomes in Asia as well as the diversion of crop production to corn as a result of ethanol subsidies.
What can be done? Diverting food production to produce fuel for cars is just plain stupid, particularly when there could be viable options (hybrid and electric cars, hydrogen, etc.). Subsidizing production to incent farmers to switch to corn production is beyond idiotic. Governments, particularly the American government has to stop this sooner than later.
With the debate over climate change now behind us all governments (including our own) must view food independence with the same importance we view energy Independence -- it should be a strategic imperative. I have seen few innovative ideas from any party (with the possible exception of the Green party which at least seems to be thinking in terms of regional economies). Canadians have been leaders in innovative thinking in this area. The 100 Mile Diet is one. Carlo Petrini's Slow Food movement has also been a leader in developing ideas and strategies for making food production "good, clean, and fair." And while this is a bit beyond what many environmentalists would support, but genetically modified foods should be at least considered particularly in Africa and drought stricken Australia and the southern United States (particularly California).
Moving to a model where local production meets local needs before allowing producers to export, will not only prevent the insecurity and unrest recently seen in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen but can also help to reduce green house gas emissions.