From the hip Improving infrastructure and reducing food waste can help relieve hunger
Like all weather-related discussions lately, talk soon turns to the drought in the U.S. and Ontario. It is hard to see it from our regional view as we sit on our deck, admiring the green from “a little too much rain.” Most of the social and economic consequences of drought have been repeatedly played in the media, but I think we are missing some key pieces of information when we consider the future.
It is true that the world is growing to nine billion people and that they need to be fed. That is a fact and there is a ripple effect when the world’s largest exporter of corn is suddenly stricken with a duster. As we live in the instant age, there is a strong dependence on trade and transportation systems. As most global food trade is handled by five companies, there is an inherent risk of storage issues. In 2008, the real grain shortage was on ships owned by those traders who were in their legal right to forget to unload it. In Canada there are two major food-distribution companies. It takes a short while, 10 days to be exact, to starve out a city by interrupting the delivery of goods.
Before the kernels were even counted during the summer of 2012 the news wires were filled with fear stories of the price of food going up. And up it did go with beef climbing another $.02 lb. across retail. At the same time, beef packers have not stretched to own product and had enjoyed a reasonable profit. With the shortage of feed and water, the volume of commercial and fed beef product is inclined to increase, thus allowing the buyer more access to product that can be sold at a higher price.
Powerful input sellers
Crops feed the world and in the beef industry, crops also feed us. Seeded crops are the backbone of investment and the foundation of the beef cattle industry. There is a high dependence on seed, fertilizer and chemical to continue to produce crops for consumption to produce the world’s most consumed crops which are sugar, maize, rice and wheat.
That has me thinking. I have always believed that the next war would be fought over food. True to that theory, if you dig deep enough into the unrest in Egypt for example, is the core frustration of the lack of reasonable access to food.
This month I will be in the slums in India as a farmer and agricultural leader and I will appreciate what the world looks like without food. And while the poor of the world don’t know or care about agricultural policy or the lack of national food sovereignty — they just want to eat — we may be witness to the erosion of access to food or freedom to grow food in our own backyard.
It will not be because we lack space or initiative, but it may be because we cannot access or afford seed, fertilizer or chemicals. Drought is a strong motivator to shortchange the world, especially on seed. Drought provides the perfect backdrop for companies to extract huge profits from the farmer and the consumer.
Corporate hoarding is a concern in these financial times and there will be a temptation to extend that further. This is not about a conspiracy theory — this is fact. In our world today there are four companies that sell 90 per cent of the grain, and seven companies that own 99 per cent of all fertilizer production. Chemicals are very much a part of current crop production and five companies own 60 per cent of all chemical manufacturing. If that doesn’t parch your pantry, consider this — only three companies control 60 per cent of all seed.
More respect for food
With nearly 40 per cent of Canadian food wasted and food wastage a huge issue worldwide, we have to examine if the price of food really needs to be up because of drought. In developed countries food wastage occurs in the fields and on the plate. In developing countries it occurs in storage.
The logistics of food distribution are huge and are not easily solved but infrastructure would play an important part. With a staggering $20 billion in food wastage each year, one could hypothesize that a drop in agricultural production by 40 per cent caused by drought could be offset by domestic food policy and self-control.
Drought presents opportunity for a handful of companies who trade in food, own seed, fertilizer or chemicals and control the sale of grains. And as consumers we may be contributing to that power through food wastage. As voters, we may allow it to unfold unless we address domestic food policy. Families should not face the despair of a parched pantry because of corporate gouging or irresponsibility.