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On foodgrain stock forecasts, the IGC and USDA are both tentative

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Foodgrain exports forecasts for 2012-13 by the USDA's WASDE. These are the major exporting countries, exports in million tons.

Foodgrain exports forecasts for 2012-13 by the USDA’s WASDE. These are the major exporting countries, exports in million tons.

In this late February capsule of the foodgrain forecasts from the International Grains Council (IGC) and the US Department of Agriculture’s WASDE (world agriculture supply and demand estimates) we see estimates for slightly higher production, but also somewhat lower consumption. The question is: what about stocks, on which there is never enough knowledge distributed as to who holds them (government or private, traders or bankers) and how they are used by food markets or agricultural commodities markets?

Still, here is what the IGC has said:

Following minor revisions to the 2012-13 forecasts, the estimate for total grains end-season stocks (excluding rice) has been revised up by 4mt to 326m, including increases for both wheat and maize. Overall, however, they remain down 40mt year-on-year at a six-year low, or a 17-year low for the major exporters.

IGC’s 2013 February grain market report presented the first forecast for the 2013-14 supply and demand balance for wheat. “While world output is tentatively projected up 4% year-on-year, much is expected to be absorbed by higher demand and end-season stocks are likely to rise by just 2mt, following a 21m decline in 2012-13. The forecast for 2012-13 end-season maize stocks has been revised 1.7mt higher this month, but major exporters’ end-season inventories are still put at a 16-year low,” said the 2013 February report.

Here are the major foodgrain forecasts for wheat, rice, coarse grain and maize:

Wheat
According to the IGC – Major exporters’ stocks for 2012-13 are revised down by 1.5mt, to 49.9mt, but upward revisions for China and India raise the global total to 176mt, which is still down 21m from last year. Increases for Brazil, Iran and Russia help to lift the 2012-13 world trade forecast by 0.8mt this month, to 137.4m. World output for 2013-14 is tentatively projected up 4% year-on-year, but much is expected to be absorbed by higher demand leaving little room for stock building.
According to WASDEGlobal wheat supplies for 2012-13 are nearly unchanged with a small increase in beginning stocks more than offsetting a small decrease in production. Global wheat output is projected 0.7 million tons lower. Production is lowered for Kazakhstan and Brazil, but raised for Ukraine, South Africa, and Belarus. Global wheat consumption is virtually unchanged at 673.4 million tons; however, global consumption is projected down 24.6 million tons year to year, mostly reflecting lower feed and residual use in 2012-13. World wheat ending stocks for 2012-13 are also nearly unchanged this month at 176.7 million tons.

Rice
According to the IGC – At 466mt, world rice production is forecast to be little changed year-on-year, as smaller harvests in Asia, particularly in India, are offset by gains elsewhere. World use is expected to rise by 2% year-on-year, to a fresh record, underpinned by increases in Asia’s leading consumers. Global ending stocks are forecast to fall marginally, but supplies in the major exporters are expected to rise to a new record. World trade in 2013 is projected to decline by 5% as key importers in Asia and Africa reduce purchases from last year’s highs.
According to WASDE – Global 2012-13 projections of rice production and consumption are raised from last month, but trade and ending stocks are lowered. Global 2012-13 rice production is forecast at a record 465.8 million due to increases for Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Nepal partially offset by reductions for Argentina and Laos. Global consumption is raised 0.7 million tons to a record 469.3 million as relatively small changes are made to several countries including Bolivia, Iraq, and Nepal. Global exports for 2012-13 are lowered slightly due mainly to reductions for Argentina and China. Imports are reduced for Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, and Indonesia. Global 2012-13 ending stocks are reduced 0.5 million tons to about102.0 million due mostly to decreases for Egypt and Indonesia.

Coarse grain
According to WASDE – Global coarse grain supplies for 2012-13 are projected 2.1 million tons higher as a decrease in beginning stocks is more than offset by a 2.9-million-ton increase in production. Lower 2012-13 beginning stocks mostly reflect an increase in 2011-12 corn exports for Brazil and revisions to the Paraguay corn series that lower 2011-12 corn area and yield. Global 2012-13 production is also higher this month for sorghum, barley, oats, and rye. Sorghum production is raised 0.4 million tons for Mexico with higher area and yields for the summer crop, but lowered 0.2 million tons for Australia with reduced prospects for area and yields. Global barley, oats, and rye production are up a combined 0.6 million tons on larger reported crops for the FSU-12 countries.

Maize (corn)
According to the IGC – Global production is forecast to decline by 3% year-on-year, with sharp falls in the US and EU offsetting rises elsewhere, including in China and the southern hemisphere. Despite some less than ideal weather in recent months, Brazil and Argentina are still set to harvest record crops. Due to tighter supplies, world use is expected to dip by 1% year-on-year, led by reduced demand from the US ethanol sector. With total use again expected to exceed production, closing stocks will decline for a fourth consecutive year, including a sharp drop in the major exporters.

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Written by makanaka

February 23, 2013 at 19:24

Energy, climate, growth, China, India – the World Energy Outlook 2012

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Inputs to the power sector to generate electricity accounted for 38% of global primary energy use in 2010, the single largest element of primary demand. In the New Policies Scenario, this share rises to 42% in 2035. Demand for electricity is pushed higher by population and economic growth, and by households and industries switching from traditional biomass, coal, oil and natural gas to electricity. The fuel mix within the power sector changes considerably, with low- and zero-carbon technologies becoming increasingly important. Graphic: IEA, WEO-2012

In four parts, 18 chapters, four annexes, illustrated by around 300 figures, the chapters supported by about 100 tables, a separate set of data upon which scenarios rest, the World Energy Outlook 2012 of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is a 690-page behemoth. I can only sketch its merest outline here, and in a fleeting way touch upon the knowledge and information it contains.

Drawing on the latest data and policy developments, the World Energy Outlook 2012 presents projections of energy trends through to 2035 and insights into what they mean for energy security, the environment and economic development. “Over the Outlook period, the interaction of many different factors will drive the evolution of energy markets,” said the WEO-2012. “As outcomes are hard to predict with accuracy, the report presents several different scenarios, which are differentiated primarily by their underlying assumptions about government policies.” We are told that the starting year of the scenarios is 2010, the latest year for which comprehensive historical energy data for all countries were available. What are these four scenarios?

Based on preliminary estimates, energy-related CO2 emissions reached a record 31.2 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011, representing by far the largest source (around 60%) of global greenhouse-gas emissions (measured on a CO2-equivalent basis). Emissions continue to rise in the New Policies Scenario, putting the world on a path that is consistent with a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 °C above levels that prevailed at the start of the industrial era. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

1. The New Policies Scenario – the report’s central scenario – takes into account broad policy commitments and plans that have already been implemented to address energy-related challenges as well as those that have been announced, even where the specific measures to implement these commitments have yet to be introduced.

2. To illustrate the outcome of our current course, if unchanged, the Current Policies Scenario embodies the effects of only those government policies and measures that had been enacted or adopted by mid-2012.

3. The basis of the 450 Scenario is different. Rather than being a projection based on past trends, modified by known policy actions, it deliberately selects a plausible energy pathway. The pathway chosen is consistent with actions having around a 50% chance of meeting the goal of limiting the global increase in average temperature to two degrees Celsius (2°C) in the long term, compared with pre-industrial levels.

4. The Efficient World Scenario has been developed especially for the World Energy Outlook 2012 (WEO-2012). It enables us to quantify the implications for the economy, the environment and energy security of a major step change in energy efficiency.

In the New Policies Scenario, global energy intensity (energy demand per unit of GDP) falls by 1.8% per year between 2010 and 2035. Between 2010 and 2035, energy intensity declines by an average of 37% and 49% in OECD and non-OECD countries respectively. Yet average energy intensity in non-OCED countries in 2035 of 0.16 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per thousand dollars of GDP is still more than twice the OECD level. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

I have extracted five important messages from the summary which are connected to the subjects you find in this blog – food and agriculture, consumer behaviour and its impacts on our lives, the uses that scarce energy is put to, the uses that scarce water is put to, the ways in which governments and societies (very different, these two) view food, energy and water.

Five key messages:
“Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2°C open for just a bit longer.” Successive editions of the World Energy Outlook have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. The 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal.

“Will coal remain a fuel of choice?” Coal has met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand over the last decade, growing faster even than total renewables. Whether coal demand carries on rising strongly or changes course will depend on the strength of policy measures that favour lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies and, especially important in the longer term, CCS. The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi – China and India account for almost three-quarters of projected non-OECD coal demand growth (OECD coal use declines).

China makes a major contribution to the increase in primary demand for all fuels: oil (54%), coal (49%), natural gas (27%), nuclear power (57%) and renewables (14%). Its reliance on coal declines from 66% of the country’s primary energy use in 2010 to 51% in 2035. Energy use in India, which recently overtook Russia to become the world’s third-largest energy consumer, more than doubles over the Outlook period. India makes the second-largest contribution to the increase in global demand after China. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

“If nuclear falls back, what takes its place?” The anticipated role of nuclear power has been scaled back as countries have reviewed policies in the wake of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Japan and France have recently joined the countries with intentions to reduce their use of nuclear power, while its competitiveness in the United States and Canada is being challenged by relatively cheap natural gas. The report’s projections for growth in installed nuclear capacity are lower than in last year’s Outlook and, while nuclear output still grows in absolute terms (driven by expanded generation in China, Korea, India and Russia), its share in the global electricity mix falls slightly over time.

“A continuing focus on the goal of universal energy access.” Despite progress in the past year, nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities. Ten countries – four in developing Asia and six in sub-Saharan Africa – account for two-thirds of those people without electricity and just three countries – India, China and Bangladesh – account for more than half of those without clean cooking facilities. The report presents an Energy Development Index (EDI) for 80 countries, to aid policy makers in tracking progress towards providing modern energy access. The EDI is a composite index that measures a country’s energy development at the household and community level.

“Energy is becoming a thirstier resource.” Water needs for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand. The report estimates that water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were 583 billion cubic metres (bcm). Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. The projected rise in water consumption of 85% over the period to 2035 reflects a move towards more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels.

Such is the barest glimpse of the WEO-2012. There are a number of aspects of the Outlook which deserve more scrutiny with a view to learning energy use and misuse, and this will be expanded upon in the weeks ahead.

Right-sizing the 2050 calculus on food and population

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A man walks away with a bag of rice at a food distribution centre in Tarenguel, Gorgol region, in Mauritania in May 2012. A full third of the country’s population, amounting to around a million people, are at risk of severe malnutrition if rain doesn’t fall by July. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Susana Vera

Ever since October 2011 when the world’s seventh billion person was born, there has been a new flurry of articles and prognoses about the need to increase ‘global’ food production to feed a ‘global’ population. While this may be all very well for earth systems scientists and researchers who are accustomed to dealing with planetary scale, those in charge of planning for agriculture at national and sub-national levels find it difficult enough relating to their own numbers (in India, the population of the smallest states are between 1 and 2 million, while that of the largest, Uttar Pradesh, is close to 200 million (!) which if it were a country would be placed between the fourth and fifth most populous countries – Indonesia and Brazil).

Through this year, numerous inter-governmental agencies and large organisations – including the FAO, WFP and IFAD – have discussed the need to be able to feed a population of nine billion, which we are expected to be in 2050 or thereabouts. And so says, recently, the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth And Bridging The Gap For Small-Family Farms’, which is the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ (12 June 2012).

Explaining that “the growing global demand for food, feed and biofuel is well established”, this inter-agency report has said that income growth will increase the quantity and change the composition of agricultural commodity demand. I find this approach a troublesome one because on the one hand there is growing recognition (even if corrective action is small and mostly symbolic) that consumption is to sustainable the way energy efficiency is to total energy use. Why are large agency and inter-agency reports continuing to skirt a matter which should be dealt with head-on – that consumption of food by the populations of ‘developing’ countries, on the lines of that practiced by the populations of OECD countries – cannot be encouraged by the food MNCs and the global food retail consortia?

A man gestures at a compound belonging to the World Food Programme as it is being looted in Abyei, in this United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) handout photo taken in May 2011. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Stuart Price / UNMIS

It is because of this consistent refusal to see – and name – the elephant in the room that this report, to the Mexican G20 Presidency, has said: “Significant increases in production of all major crops, livestock and fisheries will thus be required”.

What are the estimates provided? “Estimates indicate that by 2050, agricultural production would need to grow globally by 70% over the same period, and more specifically by almost 100% in developing countries, to feed the growing population alone… ” I am puzzled by the easy acceptance of this simple equation by the following agencies and institutions, all of whom have contributed to this report: Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, OECD, UNCTAD, Coordination team of UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, WFP, World Bank, and WTO.

There is a mathematics here that is eluding me. The estimate is that from now until 2050, world population will grow around 30% – from the current 7 billion to an estimated 9.1 billion. However, if population grows at 30%, why must the available food (excluding biofuels demand) grow at 70% over the same period? It is extremely difficult for most people (earth system scientists excluded) to make sense of such large numbers. In order to break up large numbers into more familiar terms, I have (from UN’s World Population Prospects 2010) extracted the following data. These are the populations of France, DR Congo, Thailand, Turkey and Iran, these are the world’s 21st to 17th most populous countries (in that order).

People buy food at a vegetable market in Tripoli in August 2011. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Youssef Boudlal

In 2012 their populations are: France 63.5 million, DR Congo 69.6 m, Thailand 69.9 m, Turkey 74.5 m, and Iran 75.6 m. Let’s not try to strain to look ahead as far as 2050 (by which time some of us will have returned to our ecosystems as dust or as ashes) but look to 2027, or 15 years ahead. Then, the populations will look like this: France 67.7 million, DR Congo 99.6 m, Thailand 73.1 m, Turkey 85.1 m and Iran 83.7 m.

Thus we see that, as the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ has explained, it is indeed some ‘developing’ countries which will need to provide for considerably more food being grown and made available – DR Congo will have, in this short span of years, 30 million more people! Turkey will have more than 10 million more! The growth – again for the 2012 to 2027 period alone – is France 7%, DR Congo 43%, Thailand 5%, Turkey 14% and Iran 11%.

Does it then still make sense to speak of 2050 horizons and 2.1 billion more people when we are at best talking to national planners, sectoral administrators and thematically-oriented agencies accustomed more to district boundaries than continental spreads? I say it doesn’t – and the less time and money and conferencing we expend on these beyond-humanscale numbers the more sense we will make to those in need of guidance. The question then resolves itself as being more prickly, and more in need of hard answers – if the 30 million additional people in DR Congo are to choose a diet that has 50% less meat and 50% more indigenous vegetables and tubers and roots in it, will DR Congo still – over this period alone – need to plan for growing 43% more food (grain) to keep pace with population growth? Will Turkey need to do the same (time to encourage more çorbasi and less schwarma perhaps!)?

Grains till 2016-17: the IGC speaks

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The International Grains Council (IGC) has prepared a summary of projections for grains and cereals. The IGC Secretariat has said of its work that “the figures represent the Secretariat’s view of the general development of the global grains economy in the period to 2016-17, taking into account a number of broad assumptions”.

These include assumed trends in population growth, prices, developments in agriculture and trade policy, as well as prospects for the global economy. “The latter have become increasingly uncertain over the past year”, the IGC Secretariat has said. The IGC has added the proviso that these estimates and the forecast derived from them are subject to risk, and this analysis assumes that current economic problems do not worsen. Here are the sections:

Total Grains
* World grains production in 2016-17 is projected to reach 1.98bn tons, a 158m. increase (+9%) compared with 2011-12; wheat output is forecast to rise by 30m. (4%) and maize by 94m. (11%).
* Despite heightened economic uncertainty, the analysis assumes any slowdown in global economic growth will be temporary and increasing prosperity will boost grains consumption, particularly for feed and industrial uses. Feed use is expected to rise at a slightly faster pace than in recent years, while increases in industrial use will slow from the very rapid rates in the past decade. Diversifying diets, particularly in favour of livestock products, will slow the rise in direct use of grains for human food. Total grains consumption is projected at 1.98bn. tons in 2016-17 (1.83bn. in 2011-12), including 659m. (630m.) for human food, 846m. (769m.) for feed and 343m. (302m.) for industrial uses.

World grains stocks are forecast to show little change in the medium term and are set to remain relatively tight, especially for maize. At the end of 2016-17, world grain carryover stocks are projected at 354m. tons (compared with 360m. at the end of 2011-12), including 118m. (123m.) of maize, 196m. (202m.) of wheat and 26m. (23m.) of barley.
* World grains trade is projected to increase by about 2% per year, to 273m. tons in 2016-17, with wheat and maize rising to new records. Increasing demand for wheat-based foods will lift wheat import needs in Africa and Asia. Imports of maize for feed will rise, especially in Pacific Asia, with China seen as a more regular buyer.

Wheat
* Increases in world wheat production in the five years ending 2016 are expected to be broadly matched by use, and global stocks are expected to be maintained at close to recent levels.
* Planting decisions will be influenced by likely attractive prices for alternative crops, especially maize and oilseeds. Nevertheless, some rise in global wheat area is anticipated, led by gains in the CIS. After a relatively sharp increase of 1.6% in 2012-13, including a recovery in North America, global areas are projected to expand by around 0.4% annually. Taking into account slightly increased average yields over the period, world wheat production is projected to reach a record 714m. tons in 2016-17, representing an increase of 30m. compared with the estimate for 2011.
* World wheat consumption is projected to grow by 1.1% annually, close to the long-term average, reaching 716m. tons in 2016-17, up by 39m. compared with 2011-12. A continued increase in human food use accounts for half the rise, driven by expanding demand in developing countries. At 0.8% per year, the average annual increase is only slightly slower than the longer-term trend of 1.0%. Increases in world feed use mainly reflect a tight S&D outlook for maize and expectations that the cost of wheat will be more attractive than maize at times. Gains in industrial use are expected to accelerate, particularly for biofuels, although overall amounts will remain small relative to total consumption.
* World wheat carryover stocks are projected to stay relatively ample in the next five years, receding only slightly, to 196m. tons. Those in the eight major exporters are projected to show an initial rise, but then fall back to about the same level as currently.
* World wheat trade to 2016-17 is forecast to increase by around 2% per year, reaching a fresh record of 138m. tons. Increases in milling wheat trade will be sustained by rising demand in developing countries in Asia and Africa, while feed wheat may show some further gains if import costs are competitive with maize.

[The IGC forecast document is available here (pdf)]
[The spreadsheet (xls) with the major grains’ data is available here]

Rice
* Only a modest expansion in the global paddy (rice) area is forecast in the five years to 2016-17, with the average year-on-year increase projected at just 0.3% (compared to an average of 0.7% in the prior five-year period). To some extent, this reflects an expected contraction in China’s sowings, amid a continued shift to diets that are richer in protein. Taking into account slightly reduced average yield gains, global rice production (milled basis) is projected to increase by 23m. tons, to 482m. by 2016-17, an annual average growth rate of 1%.
* Global rice consumption is projected to reach 482m. tons by 2016-17, up by 25m. from 2011-12. At 1.1%, average growth, while broadly in line with the global population trend, will be lower than in previous years. This is due to a forecast contraction in China, as well as more moderate growth in other parts of Asia. Elsewhere, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing regional markets, the result of a rising population and a shift away from traditional, locally-grown cereals.
* The world rice carryover is projected to rise only slightly over the next five years, to 103m. tons. In the five major exporters, stocks are expected to initially increase – centred on inventory accumulation in India and Thailand – before edging slightly lower. Their share of the world total will average around one-third through to 2016-17.
* Global rice trade is projected to expand by nearly 3% annually, to 37.2m. tons by 2017, broadly in line with maize but comfortably exceeding the year-to-year rise in wheat. Growth will be underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asia, especially the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa. The latter sub-region will remain heavily dependent on imports to meet domestic requirements; their share of total consumption is forecast to average 45%.

Maize (Corn)
* The supply and demand for maize (corn) is projected to remain tight, with world inventories projected to drop to historically low levels.
* With firm global demand and generally tight availabilities expected to support world prices, maize plantings are projected to remain high across the forecast period. Increases in area and improvements in yields, especially in the US, Latin America and China, result in large consecutive crops. World maize production is forecast to increase to 949m. tons in 2016-17, some 94m. higher than the estimate for 2011.
* Global maize consumption is projected to rise to 949m. tons in 2016-17, up by 86m. from 2011-12. Growth in use is forecast to decelerate, mainly due to slowing industrial demand. With use for ethanol in the US levelling out, industrial consumption is projected to rise by 2% annually, compared to 12% in the last five years. Despite high prices, rising meat demand in developing countries will lift feed maize consumption by around 2% per year. Population growth, rising per capita incomes and changing dietary preferences are expected to boost meat consumption in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
* World closing stocks are expected to tighten but, with supply and demand seen broadly in balance towards the end of the forecast period, the projected 2016-17 carryover of 118m. tons would only be 5m. below that at the end of 2011-12. US ending stocks are forecast to increase from recent lows, but China’s will decline.

Climate debt and the Durban deception

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As African civil society, global South movements and international allies protested right through COP17 in Durban, South Africa. They rejected the call of many developed countries for a so-called 'Durban mandate' to launch new negotiations for a future climate framework. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

COP17 is over in Durban and some positions have now become clear. From a reading of the independent accounts of the negotiations and the long-winded statements issued by governments, this is what has happened:

1) Actual action to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases has been pushed back by years, probably five and maybe even 10. A new treaty will take several years to negotiate and a few more to get it ratified by enough countries so that it makes a difference. Even then, major polluters like the USA (especially the USA but also China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa) may not ratify it. We don’t know – since it wasn’t spelt out in Durban – that any new agreement won’t be a weak and useless ‘pledge and review’ system.

2) Developed countries want to end the Kyoto Protocol. But they also want to retain and expand parts of the Kyoto Protocol they like. This includes the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). The European Union (EU) is most keen on this. By doing this they want to continue to transfer their responsibilities to developing countries. Since Durban ended with no legally binding emission reductions (under the expiring Kyoto Protocol or under any sort of successor to it) there is no rationale for any carbon market. But the big carbon brokers and traders of the EU want the carbon market, the continuation of the CDM and even the creation of new ‘market mechanisms’.

3) The hold of global finance and banking over climate negotiations is strong. The World Bank and the Global Climate Fund mean that any climate fund linked to a post-Kyoto deal will be managed by an anti-democratic entity that is responsible for much of the climate disruption and poverty in the world. The World Bank together with support from the European Union will block any attempt at participatory governance of such a fund. This means the Global Climate Fund will be set up to funnel more profits – under the guise of mitigation and adaptation – to the private sector.

This much is clear to me. That is why I see one more outcome:

4) Large and influential advocacy groups such as India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) will support the position their government’s take even what that position is going to hurt the poor in the country. In a briefing titled ‘The final outcome of the Durban Conference on Climate Change’ the CSE provided its assessment:

Developed countries are committing themselves to reduce only 13 to 17 percent by the year 2020. This will lead the world to an increase in the temperature of more than four degrees Celsius. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

“The Durban Conference is a turning point in the climate change negotiations as even though developing countries have won victories, these have come after much acrimony and fight. At Durban the world has agreed to urgent action, but now it is critical that this action to reduce emissions must be based on equity. India’s proposal on equity has been included in the work plan for the next conference. It is clear from this conference that the fight to reduce emissions effectively in an unequal world will be even more difficult in the years to come. But it is a conference which has put the issue of equity back into the negotiations. It is for this reason an important move ahead.”

But – COP17 saw no turning point, although India’s government and its media supporters are saying so at home. Developing countries have won no victories and the poor in those developing countries must bear the brunt of the environmental impacts of business as usual. There was no agreement to urgent action – in fact exactly the opposite. India has no proposal on equity – it has none at home and therefore none to offer any climate negotiations. There is no move ahead except for finance, carbon markets and tech transfer brokers.

That’s that, as I see it. Here is some material worth consulting to learn more about the ideas of equity and justice under the subject of climate change.

In Triple Crisis, Martin Khor wrote: “The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban ended on Sunday morning with the launch of negotiations for a new global climate deal to be completed in 2015. The new deal aims to ensure “the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties”, meaning that the countries should undertake deep Greenhouse Gas emissions cuts, or lower the growth rates of their emissions. It will take the form of either “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. In a night of high drama, the European Union tried to pressurize India and China to agree to commit to a legally binding treaty such as a protocol, and to agree to cancel the term “legal outcome” from the list of three possible results, as they said this was too weak an option.”

In Project Syndicate, Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland, is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Laureate, have written about climate justice:

“The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. So the European Union and the other Kyoto parties (the United States never ratified the agreement, and the Protocol’s terms asked little of China, India, and other emerging powers) must commit to a second commitment period, in order to ensure that this legal framework is maintained.”

“At the same time, all countries must acknowledge that extending the lifespan of the Kyoto Protocol will not solve the problem of climate change, and that a new or additional legal framework that covers all countries is needed. The Durban meeting must agree to initiate negotiations towards this end – with a view to concluding a new legal instrument by 2015 at the latest. All of this is not only possible, but also necessary, because the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy makes economic, social, and environmental sense. The problem is that making it happen requires political will, which, unfortunately, seems in short supply. Climate change is a matter of justice. The richest countries caused the problem, but it is the world’s poorest who are already suffering from its effects. In Durban, the international community must commit to righting that wrong.”

Protesters block the halls at the Durban International Conference Centre, December 9, 2011. Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin

In Real Climate Economics, Frank Ackerman said about the USA: “While others are not blameless, the United States is the leader of the do-nothings, the country whose inaction ensures a global climate stalemate. As long as the world’s largest economy, with the largest cumulative emissions and the greatest resources to tackle the climate crisis, refuses to act, others are not likely to move forward on their own. Yet there is not a snowball’s chance in Texas that any significant climate policy will survive the current U.S. Congress. Thus the global failure to protect the earth’s climate can be traced back to the dysfunctional state of American politics. With the Republicans increasingly committed to science denial and the Democrats unable or unwilling to challenge them, climate policy is going nowhere.”

Several more points on subjects that have much to do with climate change.

On technology – “The technology discussions have been hijacked by industrialised countries speaking on behalf of their transnational corporations”, said Silvia Ribeiro from the international organisation ETC Group. Critique of monopoly patents on technologies and the environmental, social and cultural evaluation of technologies have been taken out of the Durban outcome. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the new technology mechanism will merely be a global marketing arm to increase the profit of transnational corporations by selling dangerous technologies to countries of the South, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology or geoengineering technologies.

On agriculture – “The only way forward for agriculture is to support agro-ecological solutions, and to keep agriculture out of the carbon market”, said Alberto Gomez, North American Coordinator for La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers. “Corporate agribusiness, through its social, economic and cultural model of production, is one of the principal causes of climate change and increased hunger. We therefore reject free trade agreements, association agreements and all forms of the application of intellectual property rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, nanotechnology and climate smart agriculture) that only exacerbate the current crisis.”

According to Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the UN and Bolivia’s former chief negotiator on climate change, "The USA blackmails developing countries. They cut aid when a developing country raises its hands and does discourse against their proposals. This happened to Bolivia two years ago: after Copenhagen, they cut aid of $3 million." Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

On REDD + and forest carbon projects – “REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)+ threatens the survival of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. Mounting evidence shows that Indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies”, declared the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life. Their statement, released during the first week of COP17, declares that “REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatisation and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. We denounce carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.”

On the green economy – “We need a climate fund that provides finance for peoples of developing countries that is fully independent from undemocratic institutions like the World Bank. The bank has a long track record of financing projects that exacerbate climate disruption and poverty”, said Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South. “The fund is being hijacked by the rich countries, setting up the World Bank as interim trustee and providing direct access to money meant for developing countries to the private sector. It should be called the Greedy Corporate Fund!” Climate policy is making a radical shift towards the so-called “green economy”, dangerously reducing ethical commitments and historical responsibility to an economic calculation on cost-effectiveness, trade and investment opportunities. Mitigation and adaption should not be treated as a business nor have its financing conditioned by private sector and profit-oriented logic. Life is not for sale.

On climate debt – “Industrialised Northern countries are morally and legally obligated to repay their climate debt”, said Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Developed countries grew rich at the expense of the planet and the future all people by exploiting cheap coal and oil. They must pay for the resulting loss and damages, dramatically reduce emissions now, and financially support developing countries to shift to clean energy pathways.” Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility, must honour their climate debt in all its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective and scientific solution. The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings. We call on developed countries to commit themselves to action. Only this could perhaps rebuild the trust that has been broken and enable the process to move forward.

FAO 2011 October Food Index down, food prices still up, what’s going on?

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FAO has released its Food Price Index for October 2011, saying the index has dropped dropped to an 11-month low, declining 4 percent, or nine points, to 216 points from September. Indeed the index has dropped, declined and has certainly not risen. But does this mean food prices for the poor in many countries, for labour, for informal workers, for cultivators too – has the cost of food dropped for any of them?

The answer is a flat and unequivocal ‘No’. FAO has said so too: “Nonetheless prices still remain generally higher than last year and very volatile.” At the same time, the Rome-based food agency has said that the “drop was triggered by sharp declines in international prices of cereals, oils, sugar and dairy products”.

The FAO has said that an “improved supply outlook for a number of commodities and uncertainty about global economic prospects is putting downward pressure on international prices, although to some extent this has been offset by strong underlying demand in emerging countries where economic growth remains robust”.

Once again, the FAO is speaking in two or more voices. It should stop doing so. A very small drop in its food price index does not – repeat, does not – indicate that prices for food staples in the world’s towns and cities has dropped and people can afford to buy and cook a square meal a day for themselves and their children. Not so at all.

I am going to contrast what FAO has said about its October food price index with very recent reportage about food and food price conditions in various parts of the world.

FAO: “In the case of cereals, where a record harvest is expected in 2011, the general picture points to prices staying relatively firm, although at reduced levels, well into 2012. International cereal prices have declined in recent months, with the FAO Cereal Price Index registering an eleven month-low of 232 points in October. But nonetheless cereal prices, on average, remain 5 percent higher than last year’s already high level.”

Business Week reported that rising food prices in Djibouti have left 88 percent of the nation’s rural population dependent on food aid, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said. A ban on charcoal and firewood production, which provides about half of the income of poor people in the country’s southeast region, may further increase hunger, the Washington- based agency, known as Fewsnet, said in an e-mailed statement today. Average monthly food costs for a poor urban family are about 33,907 Djibouti francs ($191), about 12,550 francs more than the average household income, Fewsnet said. Urban residents in the Horn of Africa nation don’t receive food aid, it said.

FAO: “According to [FAO’s November 2011] Food Outlook prices generally remain ‘extremely volatile’, moving in tandem with unstable financial and equity markets. ‘Fluctuations in exchange rates and uncertainties in energy markets are also contributing to sharp price swings in agricultural markets,’ FAO Grains Analyst Abdolreza Abbassian noted.”

A Reuters AlertNet report quoted Brendan Cox, Save the Children’s policy and advocacy director, having said that rising food prices are making it impossible for some families to put a decent meal on the table, and that the G20 meeting [currently under way in Cannes, France] must use this summit to agree an action plan to address the food crisis. Malnutrition contributes to nearly a third of child deaths. One in three children in the developing world are stunted, leaving them weak and less likely to do well at school or find a job. Prices of staples like rice and wheat have increased by a quarter globally and maize by three quarters, Save the Children says. Some countries have been particularly hard hit. In Bangladesh the price of wheat increased by 45 percent in the second half of 2010. In new research, Save the Children analysed the relationship between rising food prices and child deaths. It concluded that a rise in cereal prices – up 40 percent between 2009 and 2011 – could put 400,000 children’s lives at risk.

FAO: “Most agricultural commodity prices could thus remain below their recent highs in the months ahead, according to FAO’s biannual Food Outlook report also published today.  The publication reports on and analyzes developments in global food and feed markets. In the case of cereals, where a record harvest is expected in 2011, the general picture points to prices staying relatively firm, although at reduced levels, well into 2012.”

IRIN News reported that food production is expected to be lower than usual in parts of western Niger, Chad’s Sahelian zone, southern Mauritania, western Mali, eastern Burkina Faso, northern Senegal and Nigeria, according to a report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a separate assessment by USAID’s food security monitor Fews Net. “We are worried because these irregular rainfalls have occurred in very vulnerable areas where people’s resilience is already very weakened,” said livelihoods specialist at WFP Jean-Martin Bauer. Many Sahelian households live in a state of chronic food insecurity, he said. “They are the ones with no access to land, lost livestock, without able-bodied men who can find work in cities – they are particularly affected by a decrease in production.” A government-NGO April 2011 study in 14 agro-pastoral departments of Niger noted that pastoralists with small herds lost on average 90 percent of their livestock in the 2009-2010 drought, while those with large herds lost one quarter. Those who had lost the bulk of their assets have already reduced the quality and quantity of food they are consuming.

FAO: “Food Outlook forecast 2011 cereal production at a record 2 325 million tonnes,  3.7 percent above the previous year. The overall increase comprises a 6.0 percent rise in wheat production, and increases of 2.6 percent for coarse grains and 3.4 percent for rice. Globally, annual cereal food consumption is expected to keep pace with population growth, remaining steady at about 153 kg per person.”

The Business Line reported that in India, food inflation inched up to 11.43 per cent in mid-October, sharply higher than the previous week’s annual rise of 10.6 per cent, mainly on account of the statistical base effect of the previous year. Inflation in the case of non-food items and the fuels group, however, eased during the latest reported week. According to data released by the Government on Thursday, an increase in the year-on-year price levels of vegetables and pulses contributed to the surge in the annual WPI-based food inflation for the week ended October 15, apart from the base effect. Sequentially food inflation was up 0.25 per cent.

FAO: “The continuing decline in the monthly value of the FAO Cereal Price Index reflects this year’s prospect for a strong production recovery and slow economic growth in many developed countries weighing on overall demand, particularly from the feed and biofuels sectors.”

Al Ahram reported that Egyptian household budgets had mixed news in September with prices for some basic foods tumbling month-on-month and others showing small climbs, according to state statistics agency CAPMAS. Figures released this week show the price of local unpacked rice fell 15.6 per cent to LE4.96 per kilo between August and September 2011. It was the commodity’s first decline in nearly a year, although the per kilo price remains 68 per cent higher than the LE2.95 that rice cost in October 2010. Chicken also fell 5.8 per cent to LE16.26 per kilo between August and September. Other staples, however, continued to rise; the price of potatoes climbed 14 per cent to LE4.89 per kilo, while a kilo of tomatoes gained a monthly 14.8 per cent to cost LE4.65.

FAO’s World Food Day sermon, well balanced with a few blind spots

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This is worth a close read for it reflects, in my view, the pull and tug of various opinions and convictions inside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the single entity that we rely on the most to inform us about the state of cultivators, what they’re growing in our world, and who isn’t getting enough of those crops as food.

I have extracted some important paragraphs of this publication [get it here as a pdf], and commented on them. Here goes:

“At the level of individuals, people living on less than US$1.25 a day may need to skip a meal when food prices rise. Farmers are hurt too because they badly need to know the price their crops are going to fetch at harvest time, months away. If high prices are likely they plant more. If low prices are forecast they plant less and cut costs.”

Yes and no. The one-dollar-a-day global poverty line really ought to be done away with. It means nothing at national level and less within countries. Trying to equate real prices and actual consumption (in grams or hundred grams a day) with purchasing power parity-adjusted international dollars is generally a pointless exercise that generates lists and rankings that distract rather than inform. Anyway, the important part of what FAO said here is that when they’re under a certain daily income line, people can’t buy food to eat what they need to. The comment on farmers making decisions based on expected prices is a good one, something that most people miss, assuming that farmers are as interested in food security as academics are – which is quite untrue. For a farming household, sowing a field is a cost, and that cost needs to be more than recouped in order to make the decision to sow a good one.

“Rapid price swings make that calculation much more difficult. Farmers can easily end up producing too much or too little. In stable markets they can make a living. Volatile ones can ruin them while also generally discouraging much-needed investment in agriculture. Recognizing the major threat that food price swings pose to the world’s poorest countries and people, the international community, led by the G20, moved in 2011 to find ways of managing volatility on international food commodity markets. Under the presidency of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the world’s 20 largest economies agreed that any strategy directed to that purpose should have the protection of vulnerable countries and groups as its main priority.”

Now here’s the FAO getting to grips with today’s problem. Rapid price swings is what we tend to call volatility – this can be volatility in retail food prices, or in input prices for farmers, or in offtake (purchase at the farm gate or local market) prices of harvested crops. I don’t see any stable markets the FAO is referring to here. Under Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the stability is constructed by coordinating a monstrous array of incentives and subventions – causing instability elsewhere in the world and particularly when that ‘elsewhere’ is importing (under duress) European agri products and processed food. But that’s another though related story.

The idea of “much-needed investment in agriculture” is an ill-defined one. The best investment a farmer can make, so goes an old Indian proverb, is that she walks the soil of her field every day with her bare feet – and that means for the farmer to till her land and come face to face with her natural resources and biodiversity. It is not the sort of investment the ‘market’ can understand. But FAO ought to, especially since it also has a Save And Grow programme aimed at addressing the organic, low input, community side of cultivation. This is an example of the contradictions in this FAO document. The “international community” is a tired and non-existent label, describing nothing while pretending to be collegial. Mediocre editorial writers still use it but no realists do. The G20 statement this time around may be a little less wishy-washy than it was last year, but that is scant comfort to the hungry or to the cultivators of small plots.

“Today’s turbulent commodities markets contrast sharply with the situation that characterized the last 25 years of the twentieth century. Between 1975 and 2000 cereal prices remained substantially stable on a month-to-month basis, although trending downwards over the longer term. For despite rapid population growth – world population doubled between 1960 and 2000 – the Green Revolution launched by Dr Norman Borlaug in the 1960s helped food supply to meet and even exceed demand in many countries, including India, thanks to the work of M. S. Swaminathan, then Director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.”

Oh dear. This is one step forward and three back for the FAO. It should not – not – go looking at Green Revolution history in an attempt to encourage beleaguered small farmers and consumers battered by food price inflation. Yes, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and CIMMYT (the CGIAR International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) will establish the Borlaug Institute for South Asia in India. This institute will be at the forefront of the so-called Second Green Revolution in eastern India (and thereafter sub-Saharan and East Africa). The kind of infrastructure demanded by the first Green Revolution by way of irrigation canals, dams with extensive command areas, provision of rural electricity to run pumpsets with, heavily subsidised inorganic fertilisers produced by a monolithic industry closely allied to the petro-chemicals industry and fossil fuel suppliers – all these were overlooked in the rush to raise yield per hectare. We do not want to see that being attempted again with public monies. It is this investment – rather this big fat public money pipe – which kept cereal prices “substantially stable on a month-to-month basis” in what used to be called the First World. It is not possible there now, it is not possible here (Asia and Africa) now. And that’s what FAO should have said, clearly and bluntly.

“In fact there was, in the Western Hemisphere at least, an over-abundance of food, caused in no small part by the generous subsidies which OECD countries paid to their farmers. But the picture today is a very different one. The global market is tight, with supply struggling to keep pace with demand and stocks are at or near historical lows. It is a delicate balance that can easily be upset by shocks such as droughts or floods in key producing regions.”

So it does try to say this, in a push-me-pull-you sort of way, but the truth is there is no delicate balance. Markets do not tolerate delicate balances because investors have no time for such niceties.

“In order to decide how, and how far, we can manage volatile food prices we need to be clear about why, in the space of a few years, a world food market offering stability and low prices became a turbulent marketplace battered by sudden price spikes and troughs.”

Hear, hear.

“The seeds of today’s volatility were sown last century when decision-makers failed to grasp that the production boom then enjoyed by many countries might not last forever and that continuing investment was needed in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure. In the 30 years from 1980 to date the share of official development assistance which OECD countries earmarked for agriculture dropped 43 percent. Continued under-funding of agriculture by rich and poor countries alike is probably the main single cause of the problems we face today.”

Why does the FAO continue stubbornly to see “investment” as an output of only, and exclusively, national agricultural research systems that are in the vast majority of countries government departments with little real connection to growers and household consumers, or are adjuncts of industrial agriculture multinationals? The seeds of volatility (FAO’s pun, not mine) were planted when commodity exchanges invented commodity futures in collusion with banks and investment consulting companies – production booms were not, in the ecological economics framework of measuring things, booms of any kind, nor were they seen in many countries other than the subvention-drunk OECD of the 1970s and 1980s. In this para, FAO has blundered clumsily by now apportioining some blame to “continued under-funding” while having already mentioned the “generous subsidies” years in the West.

“Contributing to today’s tight markets is rapid economic growth in emerging economies, which means more people are eating more meat and dairy produce with the need for feedgrains increasing rapidly as a result. Global trade in soymeal, the world’s leading protein feed for animals, has grown 67 percent over the past 10 years.”

Hear, hear. Type 2 diabetes and the burden of non-communicable diseases (see the WHO’s recent campaign) have also increased dramatically as a result of the wanton carpet-bombing of “emerging economies” (another revolting label) by the food-agbiotech-retail MNCs.

“Population growth, with almost 80 million new mouths to feed every year, is another important element. Population pressure is compounded by the erratic and often extreme meteorological phenomena produced by global warming and climate change. A further contributing factor may be the recent entry of institutional investors with very large sums of money into food commodity futures markets. There is evidence to suggest that food prices may have surged partly as a result of speculation. But there is considerable debate over the issue.”

Yes and no. FAO is right about the impact of population growth, about climate change (it has an enormous amount of documentation on the subject), about institutional investors and how they distort prices and about food speculation and its effects on street prices. There is plenty of evidence. There is not “considerable debate”, unless the FAO thinks that the angry bleatings of bankers to the contrary is some sort of debate. If so, it should consult its fellow UN agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which this year released a study titled ‘Price Formation in Financialized Commodity Markets: The Role of Information’. The UNCTAD experts who wrote this paper concluded that the commodities market isn’t functioning properly, or at least not the way a market is supposed to function in economic models, where prices are shaped by supply and demand. But the activities of financial participants, according to the study, “drive commodity prices away from levels justified by market fundamentals”. This leads to massively distorted prices, which are not influenced by real factors but by the expectation that economic developments will improve or worsen.

“Lastly, distortive agricultural and protectionist trade policies bear a significant part of the blame. In addition, with agriculture now substantially part of the wider energy market, any shock to the latter – such as unrest in a producing country – can have immediate repercussions on food prices. Responding to food price volatility therefore involves two different kinds of measures. The first group addresses volatility itself, aiming to reduce price swings through specific interventions while the other seeks to mitigate the negative effects of price swings on countries and individuals. One measure frequently invoked under the first heading is the setting up of an internationally held food stock able to intervene on markets to stabilize prices. But FAO’s view is that such a stock would be of dubious value, as well as expensive and difficult to operate. Also, government intervention in food markets discourages the private sector and hinders competition.”

Again the FAO push-me-pull-you is at work here, but the premier food agency has made some important points. The connection between agriculture and energy is one – and that means biofuels, which has a para to itself in the FAO document. Conflict is also brought in as a factor affecting prices – in how many food-producing and exporting countries is there now war or armed conflict? The idea of ‘strategic food reserves’ – which countries in South-east Asia and in the Persian Gulf region are pursuing – has been given short shrift, rightly in my view. But once again the FAO makes a tired attempt to placate the pro-WTO groups by bemoaning protectionist trade policies – which in WTO-speak means no barriers to entry for OECD food products anywhere so that all that accumulated legacy subsidy can pay back a little. Not acceptable, FAO folks. And to round off the contradictory para, the FAO statement again criticises “government intervention” as hindering competition. Governments have to serve their citizens according to constitutions and charters – these are internal matters and this is where sovereignty and self-determination come before market. Better believe it FAO. At least, for now.

World food insecurity report 2011 – expect more of the same

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have released ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011’ (SOFI).

This year’s report focuses on high and volatile food prices, identified as major contributing factors in food insecurity at global level and a source of grave concern to the international community. “Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, the population continues to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system,” the report said.

Moreover, food price volatility may increase over the next decade due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets and more frequent extreme weather events.

Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.

Key Messages

Small import-dependent countries, especially in Africa, were deeply affected by the food and economic crises. Some large countries were able to insulate themselves from the crisis through restrictive trade policies and functioning safety nets, but trade restrictions increased prices and volatility on international markets.

High and volatile food prices are likely to continue. Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, population will continue to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system. On the supply side, there are challenges due to increasingly scarce natural resources in some regions, as well as declining rates of yield growth for some commodities. Food price volatility may increase due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets, as well as an increased frequency of weather shocks.

Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty. Because food represents a large share of farmer income and the budget of poor consumers, large price changes have large effects on real incomes. Thus, even short episodes of high prices for consumers or low prices for farmers can cause productive assets – land and livestock, for example – to be sold at low prices, leading to potential poverty traps. In addition, smallholder farmers are less likely to invest in measures to raise productivity when price changes are unpredictable.

Large short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development. Changes in income due to price swings can reduce children’s consumption of key nutrients during the first 1,000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity, increasing the likelihood of future poverty and thus slowing the economic development process.

High food prices worsen food insecurity in the short term. The benefits go primarily to farmers with access to sufficient land and other resources, while the poorest of the poor buy more food than they produce. In addition to harming the urban poor, high food prices also hurt many of the rural poor, who are typically net food buyers. The diversity of impacts within countries also points to a need for improved data and policy analysis.

High food prices present incentives for increased long-term investment in the agriculture sector, which can contribute to improved food security in the longer term. Domestic food prices increased substantially in most countries during the 2006–08 world food crisis at both retail and farmgate levels. Despite higher fertilizer prices, this led to a strong supply response in many countries. It is essential to build upon this short-term supply response with increased investment in agriculture, including initiatives that target smallholder farmers and help them to access markets, such as Purchase for Progress (P4P).

Safety nets are crucial for alleviating food insecurity in the short term, as well as for providing a foundation for long-term development. In order to be effective at reducing the negative consequences of price volatility, targeted safety-net mechanisms must be designed in advance and in consultation with the most vulnerable people.

A food-security strategy that relies on a combination of increased productivity in agriculture, greater policy predictability and general openness to trade will be more effective than other strategies. Restrictive trade policies can protect domestic prices from world market volatility, but these policies can also result in increased domestic price volatility as a result of domestic supply shocks, especially if government policies are unpredictable and erratic. Government policies that are more predictable and that promote participation by the private sector in trade will generally decrease price volatility.

Investment in agriculture remains critical to sustainable long-term food security. For example, cost-effective irrigation and improved practices and seeds developed through agricultural research can reduce the production risks facing farmers, especially smallholders, and reduce price volatility. Private investment will form the bulk of the needed investment, but public investment has a catalytic role to play in supplying public goods that the private sector will not provide. These investments should consider the rights of existing users of land and related natural resources.

The IPCC speaks, on renewable energy and climate change

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Demand for energy services is increasing. GHG emissions resulting from the provision of energy services contribute significantly to the increase in atmospheric GHG concentrations. Graphic: IPCC-SRREN

The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN), agreed and released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 09 May 2011, has assessed existing literature on the future potential of renewable energy for the mitigation of climate change. It covers the six most important renewable energy technologies, as well as their integration into present and future energy systems. It also takes into consideration the environmental and social consequences associated with these technologies, the cost and strategies to overcome technical as well as non-technical obstacles to their application and diffusion.

The chapters are dense, but there is a Summary for Policy Makers which provides an overview of the SRREN. It summarises the essential findings concerning the report`s analysis of literature on and experiences with the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of the contribution of six renewable energy sources to the mitigation of climate change.

The IPCC has said that on a global basis, it is estimated that renewable energy accounted for 12.9% of the total 492 Exajoules (EJ) of primary energy supply in 2008. The largest RE contributor was biomass (10.2%), with the majority (roughly 60%) being traditional biomass used in cooking and heating applications in developing countries but with rapidly increasing use of modern biomass as well.

Hydropower represented 2.3%, whereas other RE sources accounted for 0.4%. In 2008, RE contributed approximately 19% of global electricity supply (16% hydropower, 3% other RE) and biofuels contributed 2% of global road transport fuel supply. Traditional biomass (17%), modern biomass (8%), solar thermal and geothermal energy (2%) together fuelled 27% of the total global demand for heat. The contribution of RE to primary energy supply varies substantially by country and region.

Deployment of RE has been increasing rapidly in recent years. Various types of government policies, the declining cost of many RE technologies, changes in the prices of fossil fuels, an increase of energy demand and other factors have encouraged the continuing increase in the use of RE.

The current global energy system is dominated by fossil fuels. Shares of energy sources in total global primary energy supply in 2008. Graphic: IPCC-SRREN

Despite global financial challenges, RE capacity continued to grow rapidly in 2009 compared to the cumulative installed capacity from the previous year, including wind power (32% increase, 38 Gigawatts (GW) added), hydropower (3%, 31 GW added), grid-connected photovoltaics (53%, 7.5 GW added), geothermal power (4%, 0.4 GW added), and solar hot water/heating (21%, 31 GWth added). Biofuels accounted for 2% of global road transport fuel demand in 2008 and nearly 3% in 2009. The annual production of ethanol increased to 1.6 EJ (76 billion litres) by the end of 2009 and biodiesel to 0.6 EJ (17 billion litres).

Of the approximate 300 GW of new electricity generating capacity added globally over the two-year period from 2008 to 2009, 140 GW came from RE additions. Collectively, developing countries host 53% of global RE electricity generation capacity. At the end of 2009, the use of RE in hot water/heating markets included modern biomass (270 GWth), solar (180 GWth), and geothermal (60 GWth). The use of decentralized RE (excluding traditional biomass) in meeting rural energy needs at the household or village level has also increased, including hydropower stations, various modern biomass options, PV, wind or hybrid systems that combine multiple technologies.

Climate change will have impacts on the size and geographic distribution of the technical potential for RE sources, but research into the magnitude of these possible effects is nascent. Because RE sources are, in many cases, dependent on the climate, global climate change will affect the RE resource base, though the precise nature and magnitude of these impacts is uncertain. The future technical potential for bioenergy could be influenced by climate change through impacts on biomass production such as altered soil conditions, precipitation, crop productivity and other factors. The overall impact of a global mean temperature change of less than 2°C on the technical potential of bioenergy is expected to be relatively small on a global basis. However, considerable regional differences could be expected and uncertainties are larger and more difficult to assess compared to other RE options due to the large number of feedback mechanisms involved.

For solar energy, though climate change is expected to influence the distribution and variability of cloud cover, the impact of these changes on overall technical potential is expected to be small. For hydropower the overall impacts on the global technical potential is expected to be slightly positive. However, results also indicate the possibility of substantial variations across regions and even within countries. Research to date suggests that climate change is not expected to greatly impact the global technical potential for wind energy development but changes in the regional distribution of the wind energy resource may be expected. Climate change is not anticipated to have significant impacts on the size or geographic distribution of geothermal or ocean energy resources.

The levelized cost of energy for many RE technologies is currently higher than existing energy prices, though in various settings RE is already economically competitive. Ranges of recent levelized costs of energy for selected commercially available RE technologies are wide, depending on a number of factors including, but not limited to, technology characteristics, regional variations in cost and performance, and differing discount rates. Some RE technologies are broadly competitive with existing market energy prices.

Renewable energy costs are still higher than existing energy prices, but in various settings renewable energy is already competitive. Graphic: IPCC-SRREN

Many of the other RE technologies can provide competitive energy services in certain circumstances, for example, in regions with favourable resource conditions or that lack the infrastructure for other low-cost energy supplies. In most regions of the world, policy measures are still required to ensure rapid deployment of many RE sources. Monetising the external costs of energy supply would improve the relative competitiveness of RE. The same applies if market prices increase due to other reasons. The levelized cost of energy for a technology is not the sole determinant of its value or economic competitiveness. The attractiveness of a specific energy supply option depends also on broader economic as well as environmental and social aspects, and the contribution that the technology provides to meeting specific energy services (e.g., peak electricity demands) or imposes in the form of ancillary costs on the energy system (e.g., the costs of integration).

Higher agriculture commodity prices here to stay, says major OECD-FAO report for 2011-2020

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Higher agriculture commodity prices here to stay – this is the overall message of the OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20. I will add material to this post from the main report. There is a database attached to the report which will also yield spreadsheets, to be posted here in the weeks ahead.

The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 has said that a good harvest in the coming months should push commodity prices down from the extreme levels seen earlier this year. However, the Outlook said that over the coming decade real prices for cereals could average as much as 20% higher and those for meats as much as 30% higher, compared to 2001-10. The press release has more of the big picture message from the Outlook.

Some key questions and concerns have been mentioned. One of these is: what is driving price volatility? The Outlook takes a look at the key forces driving price volatility, which create uncertainty and risk for producers, traders, consumers and governments. About a period of higher commodity prices, the Outlook said commodity prices will fall from their 2010-11 levels, as markets respond to these higher prices and the opportunities for increased profitability that they afford. In real terms, agricultural commodity prices are likely to remain on a higher plateau during the next decade compared to the previous decade.

All commodity prices in nominal terms will average higher to 2020 than in the previous decade. In real terms, prices are anticipated to average up to 20% higher for cereals and 50% higher for some meats, compared to the previous decade. On the forecasts of net agricultural production, global agricultural production is projected to grow at 1.7% annually on average compared to 2.6% in the previous decade. Slower growth is expected for most crops, especially oilseeds and coarse grains, while the livestock sector stays close to recent trends.

Where biofuels and agricultural outputs are mentioned, the Outlook has said the use of agricultural output as feedstock for biofuels will continue its robust growth, largely driven by biofuel mandates and support policies. By 2020, 12% of the global production of coarse grains will be used to produce ethanol compared to 11% on average over the 2008-10 period.

[The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 has a dedicated website here.]

[The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 Summary is available in English, Français, Español, Chinese, Português and Russian.]

A Nepalese vendor sells food from a roadside stall in Bhaktapur, some 12 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu. Photo: Foreign Policy/Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

Key points from the summary are:

(1) Commodity prices rose sharply again in August 2010 as crop production shortfalls in key producing regions and low stocks reduced available supplies, and resurging economic growth in developing and emerging economies underpinned demand. A period of high volatility in agricultural commodity markets has entered its fifth successive year. High and volatile commodity prices and their implications for food insecurity are clearly among the important issues facing governments today. This was well reflected in the discussions at the G20 Summit in Seoul in November, 2010, and in the proposals for action being developed for consideration at its June 2011 meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Paris.

(2) This Outlook is cautiously optimistic that commodity prices will fall from their 2010-11 levels, as markets respond to these higher prices and the opportunities for increased profitability that they afford. Harvests this year are critical, but restoring market balances may take some time. Until stocks can be rebuilt, risks of further upside price volatility remain high. This Outlook maintains the view expressed in recent editions that agricultural commodity prices in real terms are likely to remain on a higher plateau during the next ten years compared to the previous decade. Prolonged periods of high prices could make the achievement of global food security goals more difficult, putting poor consumers at a higher risk of malnutrition.

Even in the midst of violence in Ivory Coast, locals shopped at markets in Abidjan’s Koumassi district. Photo: Foreign Policy/Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

(3) Higher commodity prices are a positive signal to a sector that has been experiencing declining prices expressed in real terms for many decades and are likely to stimulate the investments in improved productivity and increased output needed to meet the rising demands for food. However, supply response is conditioned by the relative cost of inputs while the incentives provided by higher international prices are not always passed through to producers due to high transactions costs or domestic policy interventions. In some key producing regions, exchange rate appreciation has also affected competitiveness of their agricultural sectors, limiting production responses.

(4) There are signs that production costs are rising and productivity growth is slowing. Energy related costs have risen significantly, as have feed costs. Resource pressures, in particular those related to water and land, are also increasing. Land available for agriculture in many traditional supply areas is increasingly constrained and production must expand into less developed areas and into marginal lands with lower fertility and higher risk of adverse weather events. Substantial further investments in productivity enhancement are needed to ensure the sector can meet the rising demands of the future.