Feb 07

Food prices highest ever in January

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Global food prices hit their highest level on record in January, according to the United Nations.

It’s not just a problem for us in the UK, in fact it’s even more of a problem in the developing world. I think we’ll see many more food riots this year and into the next decade as well as actual battles and possible wars over food and water.

Food fight

The investment company Fidelity has come up with these interesting, but rather disturbing, food facts:

  • In developing countries, food makes up a far larger part of total spending than it does in developed nations. For instance, in the US, food has an 8% weighting in the CPI basket. In India, the figure is 47%. Food inflation, therefore, quickly manifests itself in overall inflation in developing economies, raising the political stakes and the potential for unrest.
  • The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50% by 2030, largely as a result of population growth, rising affluence and changing diets. The population of the world is growing at around 1% a year. It might not sound much, but it means an additional 70 million mouths to feed every year.
  • During the 2007/08 food price spike, the cost of fertiliser commodities such as urea and potash rose around tenfold. While the financial crisis saw prices fall back sharply, demand is now recovering strongly and is expected to challenge capacity in coming years; it takes around seven years to develop a new potash operation.
  • With a growing number of mouths to feed yet declining arable land (exacerbated by the use of cropland for bio-fuels) we already have  a strong need to increase crop yields. However, changing diets in the developing world add an extra dynamic to the mix. Economic growth and rising affluence in developing countries, such as China, India and Brazil, is allowing huge numbers of people to improve their diets by adding more protein, namely meat and dairy products.
  • The demand for more protein has a significant indirect impact on grain. Livestock is reared on grain feed making production heavily resource intensive. Indeed, it takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce just 1 kilogram of meat. In a world growing ever hungrier for meat, the need for more grain and better yields is clear. Grain demand in China alone is set to grow substantially.

Fidelity goes on to say that the main way to combat this growing problem is to increase crop yields, mainly using better fertilisers.

Possibly – we could be more efficient in our food production around the world.

wheat field

But I think there are a number of other things we need to do:

  • Reduce population growth. The main way to do this is to educate women in the developing world. Studies show that the more educated women are, the fewer children they have (if any) and the later they have them.
  • Eat less meat. Meat and dairy production take up far more resources than grains and vegetables. In the West we eat far too much of both and it’s worrying that China and other growth economies are taking on our, largely unhealthy, diet.
  • Share resources. I’ll be talking a lot more about this in the future but increasingly I realise that on a local and on a global level we need to share resources, take back common land, effectively work together nationally and multi-nationally to make the best use of our food resources. Check out Share the World’s Resources for more ideas on this.
  • Get back to sustainable farming. I don’t mean this in a tree-hugging way, but very practically, if we don’t stop destroying our ecosystem with pesticides, too-intensive farming and dodgy fertilisers (I’m really not 100% behind what Fidelity is saying) then we will destroy our ability to produce any type of food. This excellent programme on BBC called Who Killed the Honey Bee explains our dire situation. Without bees plants don’t get pollinated and the bee population is being decimated by bad food production practices.


So what can you do?

There’s lots we can all do:

  • Eat more vegetarian meals to be more sustainable
  • Cook from raw and find more cheap and nutritious recipes (see our recipe ideas here)
  • Keep bees (see our article on bee-keeping)
  • Get into community gardening and working to get our common grounds back
  • Start pressurising governments to adopt more sustainable food production methods
  • Campaign against bad pesticides and fertilisers

What ideas do you have?…

  • Support organisations such as Greenpeace who are trying to save Bees (@GreenpeaceUK on Twitter)


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