Food riots in Algeria in 2008. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
Unless we move quickly to adopt new population, energy, and water policies, the goal of eradicating hunger will remain just that
In the early spring this year, US farmers were on their way to planting some 96m acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.
The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world’s feedgrain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the US grain harvest. Internationally, the US corn crop exceeds China’s rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains – corn, wheat, and rice – corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.
While temperature, rainfall, and drought serve as indirect indicators of crop growing conditions, each week the US Department of Agriculture releases a report on the actual state of the corn crop. This year the early reports were promising. On 21 May, 77% of the US corn crop was rated as good to excellent. The following week the share of the crop in this category dropped to 72%. Over the next eight weeks, it dropped to 26%, one of the lowest ratings on record. The other 74% is rated very poor to fair. And the crop is still deteriorating.
Welcome to the new geopolitics of food scarcity. As food supplies tighten, we are moving into a new food era, one in which it is every country for itself.