Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Are We In The Midst Of A World Food Crisis? guest post

The UN declared this year that the world’s food prices are at an all-time high. The UK for example, has experienced such a jump in food prices that a hike of this level hasn’t been seen since 1976. In one single month the cost of fruit rose by 7.5 per cent, and meat 1 per cent. While a 1 per cent rise may seem insignificant, picture that happening every month for two years and the cost will have increased by almost a quarter. More worryingly, economists have stated that there is little sign of the situation stabilising.
Yet it is the developing world that is set to be hardest hit by the rising cost of food. In much of the developing world food basics demand a large percentage of the average household income. The result of this is that increased food costs leave reduced monies spare for other essentials. The alternative is that the family goes hungry.
Reasons why food prices keep rising include population growth and climate change. In addition, much of the world experienced an extraordinarily cold winter during 2010, leading to damaged seeds that have affected the growth of crops for 2011.
One other contributor to the rising cost of food is the topsoil crisis – yet this is something few people are aware of.
Topsoil is the uppermost layer of the earth’s soil. Topsoil is rich in the nutrients plants need to grow and thrive, and without it, little plant life will be able to flourish. Yet modern farming practices (the use of pesticides, and the aggressive use and re-use of the same patches of land) is causing topsoil to decrease much faster than it is able to regenerate.
For instance, studies have demonstrated that Australia’s topsoil is depleting five times faster than it is able to regenerate. However this is merely a drop in the ocean compared with China – their topsoil is disappearing 57 times faster than it is regenerating.
The escalating price of crude oil is also contributing to rising food costs, since this leads to an increase in transportation costs. In 2008, fuel costs and bad weather resulted in a dramatic hike in the price of food. This triggered violent protests in Mexico, Haiti, Cameroon, Egypt and Indonesia. This is an example of what may happen should a world food crisis come fully into play, and stands as a clear reason why something needs to be done about our worlds food production and the cost at which it reaches the consumer.
However, many people fail to realise there is anything wrong. We may deem higher prices to be simply a symptom of our supermarkets ripping us off (which in many cases, it is). Yet there is no sign in most countries of a lack of food; our supermarkets are stacked to the rafters with more food than we could ever need, and tons of produce is still being wasted every single day.
It is poor countries that don’t possess the climate or resources to grow much of their own produce that are most at risk from a food crisis. Nomura economists have placed Nigeria, Morocco and Bangladesh at the top of the ‘at-risk’ list.
Yet despite this, rising food costs and the imminent potential for a worldwide food crisis will affect everyone. Becoming more self-sufficient can help, as can minimising the amount of meat we eat and reducing the mounds of food we waste. Yet it is the supermarkets that rule the roost when it comes to wasted food – so perhaps change must begin with them.
Encouraging supermarkets to sell good food that would usually be removed from the shelves is a start, yet their relationships with food producers is a huge factor also and something that is largely out of the consumer’s control. We could try refusing to shop at supermarkets altogether, and buy only locally produced produce. However, this requires a mass change in attitude – an attitude in which we believe convenience to be the most important thing. The thing is, we don’t need 150 different types of bread to choose from, and we don’t need to be able to shop at any time of night or day, so why do we believe we do? Particularly when such attitudes may lead to an epidemic of empty supermarkets shelves somewhere shortly down the line.
This article was written by Amy Fowler on behalf of Garden Topsoil Direct. Amy writes on a variety of topics including environmental and sustainability issues and the world’s topsoil crisis.

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Andy the Daft Hermit lives 45 minutes outside Inverness with his wife Mel in an old bus parked in a layby. This current home of theirs is the longest they have ever stayed in one spot. “I’ve been travelling now 25 years,” said Andy Lowe. “Mel’s been travelling 15. One of the reasons we’ve come and stayed up here is because of Mel’s health. I wanted to bring her to the mountains for fresh air and clean water and just a slower pace of life.” Mel has had breast cancer twice, skin cancer once, and for three years believed she had bone cancer after being wrongly diagnosed. Andy’s belief in the restorative powers of the north made them pack up ‘The Black Bus’ that they live in and cross the border into Scotland. New Highland home for hermit couple Andy and Mel “I think we both believe in trying to get to a more simple way of life,” said Andy, “but it’s strange for us because we are sort of hermits, or we like to live separate, but it’s not being anti-social… it’s just the way we are that allows us to be creative.” Andy first began travelling when he left the army. Fed up with bureaucracy he packed a rucksack and left for France and has been travelling ever since. By investing any money the couple have earned into solar panels and wind generators they now live a self-sustaining existence, without electric bills, and collect rain water “straight from Heaven”. “It’s not easy,” said Mel. “There might be time when there might not be enough facilities around, but you always find a way, you know?” Rather than rejecting technology, Andy blogs about his travels online and collaborates with artists from around the world via his ‘Scratchy Heid Film Studio’, which he runs from a static trailer next to the couple’s bus. He explained his philosophy: “My belief is that if you can go through life and you drop dead and you’ve got a balance there that slightly outweighs the good than the bad, you’ve done alright. “Yesterday, with what Mel’s been through with the cancer and all that, I had a woman on one of my sites there that thanked me for the writing, for the positive things, and to me that’s worth everything. You can keep your millions, we’re not interested. That is what we do.” To check out Andy’s artwork and video projects check out his website. MORE FROM THE NORTH

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