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Archive for July 2012

World grains harvest revised downwards for 2012-13

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The IGC Grains and Oilseeds Index (GOI) & sub-Indices, charted from 2009 January (daily, with January 2000=100). Chart: IGC

The world 2012-13 total grains harvest (wheat and coarse grains) forecast has been revised lower by the International Grains Council (IGC) to 1,810 million tons (mt) this month and is now expected to fall year-on-year. The IGC’s forecast for the US maize crop has been cut by 50 mt, to 300 mt and the soyabean harvest has been reduced by 8.3 mt to 79 mt. Wheat output has also been revised lower in both Kazakhstan and Russia.

Maize (corn) and soyabean prices have soared to new highs on deteriorating output prospects in the US following the worst drought since 1956. Unfavourable weather conditions have also led to a scaling back of grains output and exportable surpluses in the Black Sea region, supporting gains in wheat and barley values. Global carryover grains stocks are expected to fall by 29 mt by the end of 2012-13, led by a 15 mt drop in wheat and 14 mt fall in maize; maize stocks are forecast at a six-year low.

Agrimoney has said that the downgrade takes the council’s estimate for the US corn harvest well below the US Department of Agriculture’s own forecast, of 329.5m tonnes. The USDA, whose estimates are followed particularly closely by traders, also still foresees a small rise in world corn inventories. However, analysts have already started the countdown to the next USDA Wasde report, on August 10, when it will revise estimates for crops worldwide.

The IGC Grains and Oilseeds Index (GOI) reached an all-time high on 20 July, and, despite some recent easing, is still up 14% month-on-month (m/m). World soyabean production is expected to recover sharply in 2012-13, rising by some 9% year-on-year, although the forecast hinges on a strong rebound in output from South America where planting begins in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Rice output in 2012-13 is forecast up 1%, compared to 3% growth in the previous year, due to less rapid expansion in Asia, but consumption growth is also likely to be lower. In contrast to the steep weather-driven gains in grains and oilseeds markets, rice prices declined marginally, mainly on supply-side pressures in Thailand.

Written by makanaka

July 29, 2012 at 18:45

Cereals shock, an early indicator using FAO data and outlook

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To what extent do cereals prices pull up (or depress, if at all they do) the FAO food price index? This chart shows the relationship between the main index and the cereals sub-index. As we can see from the shaded areas (which correspond roughly to the 200 mark), the steady steep rise in the cereals index, from around 2007 August onwards, pulled first the cereals sub-index and then the FAO food price index over 200, and kept them above for about nine months. The same phenomenon took place from 2010 July onwards, as a soaring cereals sub-index shot above the main index and pulled it up above 200 in 2010 October, and has kept both above 200 ever since.

Now FAO has said (in its global information and early warning system on food and agriculture, GIEWS) that the export prices of grains has risen sharply in 2012 July with maize prices at record levels. Export prices of maize increased by 20% in the first three weeks of July compared to their June level. The benchmark US maize price averaged USD 322 per tonne reaching a new record high. “Prices were underpinned by continuous concerns about the impact of hot and dry weather conditions on yield potential of the 2012 maize crop in parts of the United States,” said FAO. And now has come the downward revision of the US official 2012 maize production forecast.

The question for us is: how will the the FAO Food Price Index, which in June fell for the third consecutive month, respond? The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 201 points in June 2012, down 4 points (1.8%) from a May value of 205 points. After the third consecutive month of decline, the June value of the index was 15.4% below the peak reached in February 2011. “Continued economic uncertainties and generally adequate supply prospects kept international prices of most commodities under downward pressure, although growing concerns over adverse weather sustained prices of some crops toward the end of the month,” said the FAO.

In 2012 June, the FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 221 points, unchanged from May and down 45 points (16.8%) from its peak of 265 points in April 2011. Grain prices were very volatile in June, with weather as the main driver. “After a generally subdued situation during the first half of the month, markets moved up in the second half amid deteriorating crop prospects, most notably for maize in the United States,” said the FAO.

Finally, FAO’s cereal supply and demand brief for 2012 July lowered the forecast for world cereal production from last month, which is likely to result in a smaller build-up of world inventories by the end of seasons in 2013 than previously anticipated. “While the bulk of the increase in cereal production from last year is still expected to originate from a significant expansion in maize production in the United States, the deteriorating crop conditions due to the continuing dryness and above-average temperatures in much of the major growing regions of the country have dampened this outlook,” said the brief.

Moreover, world wheat production is heading toward a contraction of about 3.2%, to 678 million tonnes, or 2 million tonnes less than reported in June, as downward adjustments in Australia, China and the Russian Federation more than offset upward revisions in the EU and Morocco. Where rice production in 2012 is concrened, the FAO estimate is it will grow by 1.6% to 489.1 million tonnes (in milled equivalent), which compares with a previous forecast of 490.5 million tonnes. The small reduction mainly reflects some deterioration of prospects in a few major producing countries, especially India.

Written by makanaka

July 21, 2012 at 12:57

How Britain went from drought to flood in three months

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Britain has experienced a dramatic change in weather over the last three months, during which period ‘hosepipe bans’ and drought have been replaced by widespread flooding and steady rain. The droughts were compounded by a lack of rainfall over previous years, leading to empty reservoirs and lower river flows.

In this pair of maps, rainfall in March 2012 (left) had some areas in Britain seeing less than a fifth of the expected rain. April then saw nearly twice the expected rainfall for that month compared to average rainfall from 1971 to 2000. In June 2012 (right), most of the country experienced more than twice the expected rainfall. Graphics: The Telegraph / the Met Office – UK’s National Weather Service

Written by makanaka

July 14, 2012 at 17:29

The hidden hunger that shames India

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Infochange India’s special hunger and malnutrition issue of its journal Agenda, 2012 July

Agenda, which is the journal of the excellent development news website Infochange India, has issued its new number, themed on hunger and malnutrition. The articles in this collection are a mix of reportage from amongst the poorest rural regions of India, insightful explorations into the nature of nutrition and the change in food systems, and critical views on food and agriculture policy in India.

“Forty-eight per cent of all children under 5 in India are stunted for their age – the impact of longstanding hunger which, in turn, is a result of sheer poverty, marginalisation and a government that clearly does not care,” explained the introductory essay by the issue editor. “Twenty per cent of children are wasted – they are stick-thin because a drought or other crisis has forced the family to further cut back on food. And an outrageous 43% of all children under 5 are underweight – a composite index of chronic or acute deprivation.”

Children in India are especially severely affected. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme is supposed to address this extreme deprivation by providing supplementary food, rations and growth monitoring through community-level anganwadis for children under the age of six years. However, though a whopping 70% of children in India between six months and five years are anaemic, 74% of children under 6 do not receive any supplementary food from the anganwadi in their region. Convert those numbers into more than 100 million children who don’t get enough to eat.

I am privileged to have contributed three articles to this issue of Agenda. They are:

What individuals spend on a monthly food basket – Though the amounts spent on cereals are largely the same, there are clear differences between the spending of rural and urban consumers on milk and milk products, sugar and oil. Urban consumers spend 104% more than rural consumers on beverages, refreshments and processed foods.

Approaches to malnutrition and the writ of a compartmented government – The absence of inter-sectoral programmes covering the entire life-cycle of women and children in particular and requiring coordination between different ministries such as women and child development, health and family welfare, agriculture, food processing and human resource development, is the reason why, at the start of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period (2012-17), the fundamental causes of malnutrition in India remain as they were during the First Five-Year Plan.

Micro, bio and packaged — how India’s nutrition mix is being reshaped – Crop and food multinationals, ably assisted by government, are using the ‘reduce hidden hunger’ platform to push hunger-busting technologies that best suit them — including biofortification of crops, the use of supplementation, and of commercial fortification of prepared and processed foods.

More than half of continental USA hit by drought

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The national drought summary for the USA at the beginning of July 2012 shows how relentless the advance of the great dry has been in the country. Drought conditions are present in 56% of the continental USA, according to the weekly Drought Monitor. That’s the most in the 12 years that the data have been compiled – it was 55% in August 2003.

The Drought Monitor report said arid conditions intensified in large sections of the country, with only southern Texas reporting some improvement. “Light precipitation (0.5 inch or less) fell on most areas of dryness and drought, with only scattered areas reporting more than an inch, primarily in the northern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, southernmost Great Lakes region, Appalachians, mid-Atlantic region, and southern Texas,” said the summary. “Unfortunately, where rain did fall (outside southern Texas), it was not enough to make up for blistering heat that covered the Nation’s midsection, reaching the central and southern Atlantic Coast by the end of the workweek.”

Both the number of record highs in the past week, (See ‘Climate change truth wallops USA hard’) and the areas with record and near-record dryness over the last one to three months are numerous. The increasing dryness is beginning to take a significant toll on crops, pastures, and rangelands. In the primary growing states for corn and soybeans (18 each), 22% of the crop is in poor or very poor condition, as are 43% of the pastures and rangelands and 24% of the sorghum crop. In addition, the area burnt by wildfires expanded significantly. Over 1.9 million acres have been engulfed since the start of the year, and an increase of 38% in just the past week. [The Drought Monitor pdf map is available here.]

The Fukushima report, grim truth and a salute to heroism in Japan

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Signatures of the ten members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission

Japan has found new heroism and it is in the form of the ten members of the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Their report, ‘The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’, has come as a powerful call for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan and indeed worldwide.

The voluminous report was designed from the start along lines wholly and utterly ignored by the subjects of the report – the government of Japan and the Japanese nuclear power industry (and also, by association, the international nuclear mongers). And that is the maximum degree of information disclosure. To achieve this, all 19 of the commission meetings were open to public observation and broadcast on the internet (except the first one), simultaneously in Japanese and English, to a total of 800,000 viewers. The commission also also used social media, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public, receiving over 170,000 comments. To gain a global perspective, the commission dispatched three teams overseas, and included interviews and hearings with experts from the USA, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

These ten members have shown the determination to achieve maximum information disclosure in a culture, and against unfathomable pressure, that is determined otherwise. They have posed the toughest questions possible and drawn out, from hundreds of responses, the strands of truth about Japanese society which have since 2011 March 11 been obscured by the scale of the disaster, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the massive, tragic loss of life.

These ten members have emphasised through their doggedness and their untiring pursuit of the truth, no matter how bitter, that it is of vital importance that their work – this report – be utilised, as they have said, “for the Japanese people and for the people of the world”. They have demanded that national pride be set aside if it obstructs the truth, and for this, they symbolise a heroism Japan has, in an hour of unprecedented public outrage, rediscovered.

They are Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman) and members Kenzo Oshima, Hisako Sakiyama, Masafumi Sakurai, Yoshinori Yokoyama, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, Koichi Tanaka, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Reiko Hachisuka and Shuya Nomura. We must salute them.

The text below is from the chairman’s message in the English executive summary of the report (pdf, 2.4 mb):

Map showing accumulated cesium-137, from the report

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

“How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer to this question.

“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government. For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan”. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.

“Following the 1970s “oil shocks,” Japan accelerated the development of nuclear power in an effort to achieve national energy security. As such, it was embraced as a policy goal by government and business alike, and pursued with the same single-minded determination that drove Japan’s postwar economic miracle. With such a powerful mandate, nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion. At a time when Japan’s self-confidence was soaring, a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.

“This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety. Only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan’s nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. It was this mindset that led to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

“This report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame. The goal must be to learn from this disaster, and reflect deeply on its fundamental causes, in order to ensure that it is never repeated. Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.

“As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society. Above all, we have endeavored to produce a report that meets the highest standard of transparency. The people of Fukushima, the people of Japan and the global community deserve nothing less.”

Will it or won’t it? India’s monsoon forecast gamble

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Assam flood refugees. Photo: Alertnet

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has released the long-awaited update of its long range forecast for the 2012 monsoon.

Stripped of its scientific jargon, this is what the update has said. There is a July model and an August model. For both months, there are three forecast categories: below normal in which rainfall in less than 94% of the long period average (LPA), normal in which the rainfall is between 94% and 106% of the LPA, and above normal in which rainfall is more than 106% of the LPA. Under the three categories, the forecast probabilities for July are (in the same order) 36%, 41% and 23% and for August they are 42%, 36% and 22%. Under any combination of probability therefore, this means that both July and August are going to be drier than usual, and coming on top of an unusually dry June, the scenarios for water availability and for agriculture come early September are all looking tough.

Arunachal Pradesh district rainfall for three weeks

The volatility of the 2012 monsoon over north-eastern India can be seen in the images of the district weekly rainfall deviations for those states. Please bear in mind that with the late beginning of the 2012 monsoon, the week of June from 07 to 13 was for all practical purposes the first monsoon week. The colours signify major deviations – red for 50% of the average and below, green for 150% of the average and above. In Arunachal Pradesh, for the first week the average rainfall in districts was around 45%, the second week it was 41% and the third week it shot up to 124% – red is evenly scattered through the districts in the first two weeks and green districts appear in the third week.

Assam districts rainfall for three weeks

In Assam, the first week’s average for all the state’s districts was 65% of the long period average, with red dominating. In the second week the average was 103%, with ‘red’ districts declining and a few greens appearing. In the third week the average zoomed to 184% with most districts being ‘green’. In neighbouring Meghalaya, the average for the districts in the three weeks was 63%, then 51% and then a steep rise to 225% in the third week. In stark contrast Nagaland and Manipur have for the duration of these three weeks seen a combined district rainfall average of 33% and if we remove the ‘green’ districts from both states of the third week, we get a dismal 15% average – it is of course quite likely that there are data anomalies in the numbers that IMD has collected from the north-east region, as automated weather stations that actually work are likely to be fewer in number than in ‘mainland’ India. (There is a spreadsheet for this data. If you want the data till date please write to me here: makanaka at pobox dot com.)

The first three weeks of monsoon 2012 in district averages for Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya

In the update, there is also a separate set of forecasts and probabilities for four major regions of India – North-West India, Central India, South Peninsula and North-East India. There are small variations for each of these in the definitions of below normal, normal and above normal. Here are the forecast probabilities for the regions:

The list of states in each of these four geographical regions is:
Northwest India: Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh.
Northeast India: Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Central India: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Goa and Orissa.
South Peninsula: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Alarming reds and yellows over southern, central and northern India, threatening blues in north-eastern India (Bangladesh has been hit hard by floods). Graphic: IMD

The first stage forecast for the nation-wide season rainfall was issued on 2012 April 26 and this update was issued on 2012 June 22. The summary of the first stage forecast is:

“Southwest monsoon seasonal rainfall for the country as a whole is most likely to be Normal (96-104% of Long Period Average (LPA)) with the probability of 47%. The probability (24%) of season rainfall to be below normal (90-96% of LPA) is also higher than its climatological value. However, the probability of season rainfall to be deficient (below 90% of LPA) or excess (above 110% of LPA) is relatively low (less than 10%). Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall is likely to be 99% of the LPA with a model error of ± 5%. The LPA of the season rainfall over the country as a whole for the period 1951-2000 is 89 cm.”

The IMD has said that it has taken into account the experimental forecasts prepared by the national institutes like Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, Centre for Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation, Bangalore, Center for Development of Advanced Computing, Pune and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. Operational/experimental forecasts prepared by international institutes like the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, USA, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, USA, Meteorological Office, UK, Meteo France, the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, UK, Japan Meteorological Agency, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Climate Centre, Korea and World Meteorological Organization’s Lead Centre for Long Range Forecasting – Multi-Model Ensemble have also been taken into account.

Climate change truth wallops USA hard

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These records are based on the historical daily observations archived in NCDC’s Cooperative Summary of the Day data set and preliminary reports from Cooperative Observers and First Order National Weather Service stations, and as such are subject to change. The Period of Record (POR) represents the number of years with a minimum of 50% data completeness. All stations have a Period of Record of at least 30 years. Map: NOAA-NCDC

On 2012 June 28 in the USA, 205 high temperature records were broken and 74 were tied, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

An intense heat wave broke records in more than a dozen states on Friday, and spawned one of the most damaging severe thunderstorm events seen in years. At least 3 million Americans, mainly in areas from Indiana Southeast to Virginia, were facing the prospect of another day of triple-digit heat heat.

From Atlanta to Baltimore, temperatures approached or exceeded triple digits. Atlanta set a record with a high of 105 degrees, while the temperature hit 99 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport just outside the nation’s capital.

There were numerous daily, monthly, and all-time record high temperatures established on Friday. In total, there were 276 record daily high temperatures set or tied on Friday, along with 70 record warm overnight low temperature records. There were also 96 monthly record high temperatures, and 37 all-time high temperature records set or tied.

For the year-to-date, warm temperature records are outpacing cold temperature records by a ration of 7-to-1. Since January 1 there have been 21,402 daily high temperature records set, compared to just 3,338 daily records for cold high temperatures, according to a database maintained by the National Climatic Data Center.

In a long-term trend that demonstrates the effects of a warming climate, daily record-high temperatures have recently been outpacing daily record-lows by an average of 2-to-1, and this imbalance is expected to grow as the climate continues to warm. According to a 2009 study, if the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even.

Written by makanaka

July 4, 2012 at 10:47

How stoic Japan grew angry over the nuclear restart decision

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On Sunday, 29 June 2012, a massive crowd gathered in central Tokyo to express their anger at the government’s decision to restart a reactor at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, as Japan Times reports.

The protest outside the prime minister’s office has become a weekly event in the past few months, with the number of participants increasing each time. “The best we Tokyo residents can do is to protest in front of the prime minister’s office, although this is really a last-minute action,” one of the protest organisers told media.

On 29 June, Japan witnessed its largest public protest since the 1960s. This was the latest in a series of Friday night gatherings outside Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s official residence. Well over one hundred thousand people came together to vent their anger at his 16 June decision to order a restart of Units 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear plant, said this article on Japan Focus.

Japan shut down the last of its 54 reactors for inspections on 5 May 2012, the first time since May 1970 when Japan both of Japan’s two reactors were taken offline for maintenance. However, it now appears that Japan will only have been without nuclear power post-Fukushima for just under two months. On 8 June, Prime Minister Noda called for resumption of nuclear power generation in a nationwide address. Noda stated that he was ordering a restart of Units 3 and 4 at Oi, both pressure water reactors built in the early 1990s, because it was the ultimate responsibility of the state to “protect the livelihood of the people”.

The organisers said the rally a week earlier drew 45,000 people, while police said there were about 11,000 protesters. On Friday, organizers were aiming for a gathering of 100,000 people. Given the increasing number of participants, the police heightened security by stationing hundreds of officers there. It was the tightest security for a public protest in several decades, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

The protest on Friday, which began at 6 p.m., saw a huge crowd gather beforehand, with participants calling on the government and Kepco not to restart the reactors. Organizers said around 200,000 people took part, while police said participants were in the tens of thousands. “I think it’s outrageous to restart (the Oi reactors) when the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident has not even been contained,” said protester Kazumi Honda, a housewife in her 40s from Minami Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

Honda said she lives just 60 km from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant and thus could not ignore the Oi reactors’ situation, especially when their safety status is still tentative, as the government admits. Honda said she has participated in other protests but never before in Tokyo. The number of protesters kept swelling as time passed, and the line of people expanded a few blocks from the prime minister’s office. Participants were chanting, “No to the restarts!”

Written by makanaka

July 3, 2012 at 14:50