Gwynne Dyer: Biofuel mania ends days of cheap food
5:00AM Tuesday July 10, 2007
By Gwynne Dyer
The era of cheap food is over. The price of maize has doubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index in India has risen 11 per cent in one year,
But after the war, a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the green revolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long, steep fall in the real price of food.
...we are entering a period when three separate factors are converging to drive food prices up.
- Not only is the global population continuing to grow - about an extra Turkey or Vietnam every year -
- but as Asian economies race ahead, more people in those populous countries are starting to eat more meat.
- 10 years from now, people in the developing countries will be eating 30 per cent more beef, 50 per cent more pig meat and 25 per cent more poultry.
- The animals will need a great deal of grain, and meeting that demand will require shifting huge amounts of grain-growing land from human to animal consumption
- A sixth of all the grain grown in the United States this year will be "industrial corn" destined to be converted into ethanol and burned in cars, and Europe, Brazil and China are all heading in the same direction.
- The amount of United States farmland devoted to biofuels grew by 48 per cent in the past year alone,
- Global warming hits crop yields, ... for every 0.5C hotter, crop yields fall between 3 and 5 per cent.
- So 2C hotter, which is the lower end of the range of predicted temperature rise this century, means a 12 to 20 per cent fall in global food production.