Saturday, May 07, 2011

Food Prices WILL Go Up

Mankind has enjoyed several decades of falling food prices, and relative abundance. Some even say that food prices have really been trending down ever since about the mid 1800s, although there have been some periods where that has not been so clear.

Modern agriculture has improved productivity of most farm animals, crops and even trees and enhanced efficiency of the use of inputs such that more is produced for less.

Recent trends in agricultural productivity increases are much lower, a lot of the productive land is used already, some even disappearing into urban sprawl, and new areas are far less available, or have other constraints eg clearing of rainforest, and may even be less productive intrinisically.

Malthus and his predictions are back in the spotlight.

A recent short article from the Lowy Institue in Australia, a respected academic institue has examined this issue more critically.
link is here - and the publication can be downloaded as a pdf.

We need 71% more food production to feed the world population of 9.1 billion [estimated] by 2050.

So far, it does not seem to be recognised as a serious issue, with R and D expenditure on agriculture still declining, and some are suggesting that it will be difficult to again obtain the agricultural productivity gains of the past 60 years. These are years in which use of hybrid crops, the development of the "green revolution" in Asia with both wheat and rice, etc etc all took place.

Genetic modification has been embraced by some.......and strongly rejected by others.

Many scientists do think that some form of major genetic advance will be needed to ensure this food will be produced, and that there will be significant changes in how and where food is produced. Will we see more food produced within cities? Many think so, grown in novel ways too.....even vertically on walls, replacing the lawn with a food garden, food grown on building rooftops and there will be greater use of recycled water and nutrients including organic materials eg compost. These are happening in some way already around the world.

At present there is a nett movement of nutrients from farms to cities, and it just about all goes down the sewer or into landfill. That might have to change.

Science might be capable to develop new food production systems but social and cultural adjustments might be needed too. They might be more difficult.

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