World food prices have been driven to an all-time high by flooding, drought and increased demand. Image: mcmees24/Flickr

Extreme weather linked to climate change has been wreaking havoc on global crops. At the same time, demand for those crops from developing countries is increasing. Soaring world food prices are threatening the stability of governments, and more extreme weather is in the forecast.

World food prices rise with temperatures

World food prices hit an all-time high last month. In December the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food Price Index beat the record set during the 2008 food crisis. Last week, FAO announced that world food prices rose another 3 percent in January. The spike in world food prices is being driven by a surge in prices for wheat, corn, sugar and oils. A Russian drought in 2010 reduced global wheat stockpiles. Flooding in Brazil and Australia further damaged global food production. Feb. 8, FAO warned that severe drought threatened the wheat crop in China. China has become the world’s largest wheat producer to meet domestic demand. Soon 1.3 billion Chinese will be looking for wheat from other diminishing sources.

Relentless global food demand

While extreme weather is cutting into global food production, global food demand is accelerating. Every day the world has more than 200,000 additional people to feed, and many of them are destined to go hungry. While some people are starving, about 3 billion others striving to raise their standard of living want to eat more meat, milk and eggs — food from animals sustained on grain. About 120 million tons of the 400-million-ton 2010 U.S. grain harvest is being used to produce ethanol for cars. To stop rising world food prices, the world needs a bumper crop in 2011, even larger than the record harvest of 2008 that helped reverse the price spikes of the 2008 food crisis.

The consequences of climate change

The world could be one poor harvest away from an unprecedented food crisis. Globally, 2010 was the warmest year on record. Rising temperatures parched land in some parts of the world. Warmer oceans unleashed water vapor to flood others. Meteorologists warn that the world should expect more frequent droughts and flooding as the climate changes. Global food production could continue to decline while global food demand can do nothing but increase. The world’s poor will be affected first and suffer most. Food riots will proliferate, and political unrest will spread.

Sources

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41481344/?gt1=43001

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2011/0208/Brace-yourself-for-the-food-price-bubble

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/opinion/07krugman.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1297353635-Tca/D+BUBe4oUeR0tS4SYw

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