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China’s coming grain dependence

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Xinjiang street food vendor. Photo: China Daily/Lin Dihuan

How much grain will China import? How will it compare with their soybean imports? No one knows for sure, the Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown has said. “But if China were to import only 20 percent of its grain, it would need 80 million tons, an amount only slightly less than the 90 million tons of grain the United States exports to all countries each year.” This would put heavy additional pressure on scarce exportable supplies of wheat and corn, said Brown.

For China, the handwriting is on the wall, the Earth Policy briefing has stated, in ‘Can the United States feed China’. It will almost certainly have to turn to the outside world for grain to avoid politically destabilizing food price rises. To import massive quantities of grain, China will necessarily draw heavily on the United States, far and away the world’s largest grain exporter. To be dependent on imported grain, much of it from the United States, will be China’s worst nightmare come true.

“For US consumers, China’s worst nightmare could become ours. If China enters the US grain market big time, as now seems inevitable, American consumers will find themselves competing with 1.4 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes for the US grain harvest, driving up food prices.”

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Written by makanaka

March 23, 2011 at 23:33

World on the Edge, writes Lester Brown, Earth Policy

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In his introduction to the upcoming title, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that we are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. “Our challenge is to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is: Can we change direction before we go over the edge?”

The edge is what Pakistan and Russia did go over in 2010. In the summer of 2010 record-high temperatures hit Moscow and torrential rains caused immense devastation in Pakistan.

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

At first it was just another heat wave, says the first chapter of the book, but the scorching heat that started in late June continued through mid-August. Western Russia was so hot and dry in early August that 300 or 400 new fires were starting every day. Millions of acres of forest burned. So did thousands of homes. Crops withered. Day after day, Moscow was bathed in seemingly endless smoke. The elderly and those with impaired respiratory systems struggled to breathe. The death rate climbed as heat stress and smoke took their toll.

The average July temperature in Moscow was a scarcely believable 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. Twice during the heat wave, the Moscow temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a level Muscovites had never before experienced. Watching the heat wave play out over a seven-week period on the TV evening news, with the thousands of fires and the smoke everywhere, was like watching a horror film that had no end. Russia’s 140 million people were in shock, traumatized by what was happening to them and their country.

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Even before the Russian heat wave ended, there were reports in late July of torrential rains in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The Indus River, the lifeline of Pakistan, and its tributaries were overflowing. Levees that had confined the river to a narrow channel so the fertile floodplains could be farmed had failed. Eventually the raging waters covered one fifth of the country. The destruction was everywhere. Some 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 20 million people were affected by the flooding. Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis died. Some 6 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Over a million livestock drowned. Roads and bridges were washed away.

Although the flooding was blamed on the heavy rainfall, there were actually several trends converging to produce what was described as the largest natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. On May 26, 2010, the official temperature in Mohenjodaro in south-central Pakistan reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit, a record for Asia. Snow and glaciers in the western Himalayas, where the tributaries of the Indus River originate, were melting fast. As Pakistani glaciologist M. Iqbal Khan noted, the glacial melt was already swelling the flow of the Indus even before the rains came.