The Emerging Politics of Food Scarcity
by Hue Chen
Not only are we facing a crisis of exploitation and depletion of the limited resources and other various environmental problems, we face another troubling concern, worldwide food shortages. As a world, we are consuming more than we can produce. Lester R. Brown highlights this issue in chapter five of World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse about the consequences we face politically in the face of food scarcity. Universally, we are faced with some levels of food shortages and with food prices soaring, and inevitable costs follow along.
As our population is rapidly increasing, we are consuming more grain-intensive livestock products which include wheat, rice, corn and soybeans. The limited supply of production and huge demand of these foods causes food prices to soar, not just in the local areas of where they are produced, but worldwide. Brown writes, “Between early 2007 and 2008, world wheat, rice, corn and soybean prices climbed to roughly triple their historical levels (59).” The tremendous climb of prices introduced a national concern and call for food security. Soaring food prices affect the world, however, low-income areas and families are hit the hardest and as a result, it introduces violence which involves food riots, fights, arrests and even death.
Politics has a tremendously disturbing and negative impact on food shortage. Brown highlights the extreme measures we go to in order to expand production rapidly enough to keep up with demand. This includes some countries having to go to the extent of leasing or purchasing land abroad in order to produce foods for themselves, such as, grain and wheat, livestock and poultry feed and corn. Poorer countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, face the immense pressure of selling their land due to chronic hunger, meanwhile wealthy countries view them as “land grabs (63)” and in the long run, as Brown describes it, a “lucrative investment opportunity (64).” Many problems and questions rise to the surface with these land acquisitions, and a primary unease is where these lands are obtained, especially in areas where the natural land and habitats for many species would have to be destroyed just for meeting certain food demands. Brown displays this powerful image in the text, “land investments taking place in countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and the DRC are a disturbing dimension, because expanding cropland in these areas would mean clearing tropical rainforests that sequester carbon” (66). The major concern we don’t wish to face with clearing any plot of land, especially tropical rainforests, is the rise of global carbon emissions, which in return will further disrupt and contribute to the increase of climate change.
Food scarcity is one of the copious environmental problems our world faces, amongst soil erosion, aquifer depletion, crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets, melting mountain glaciers and diversion of irrigation water to cities. This power struggle for food security is dangerously emerging with not just the soaring food prices, but at the very price of the poor.