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May 2008: Notes of Interest

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•  This comes from “America’s Thinning Food Pantry” by Benjamin Gisin, Editor of Touch the Soil, a new bi-monthly magazine about sustainable agriculture (PO Box 3662, Idaho Falls ID 83403;

"In 1900 11 acres were farmed in America to feed each person. In 1954—the peak of American’s food production—the number was 7 acres. In 2006 there were only 3 acres farmed for each person in the US. This doesn’t mean that farming is getting more efficient. It means we’re importing food. “To make up for the loss of farm ground around the world, roughly 10,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest are deforested every year, 80 percent of which goes into food production.

The reasons behind faltering global food stocks are complex but are the convergence of several events that resulted in demand outpacing supply and stressing the earth’s capacity to produce. Here are just a few of the details leading up to the current situation:

The first major food-shock event took place in early 2006. Having nearly collapsed its grain reserves, India, with 1.1 billion people, announced it was entering the world market for a mere 6 million metric tons of wheat. For perspective, America produced 56 million metric tons of wheat in 2007 from some 51 million acres. So 6 million metric tons represents about 11 percent … of America’s wheat production. India’s announcement advanced the world price of wheat by 25 percent, and it has been on an uphill climb ever since.

Historically, China maintained a policy of trying to have one-year’s worth of grain for every citizen, which they almost achieved. But in 2001, China entered the modern world by joining the WTO. While we may never know all of the reasons, upon joining the WTO, China decided to sell off its grain reserves (the world’s largest at the time). Liquidating its grain reserves had two effects: it artificially kept grain prices (and food prices) in check and gave the false impression the world was feeding itself from current production.

Living off its food savings account, China would have to reckon with it some day. That day came in 2006.  As Chinese authorities had to come to grips with a global grain market too expensive for Chinese consumers to import, it started moving what was left of its grain stocks onto its domestic market to avert dramatic food inflation that might cause political turmoil.

While the world did not produce enough wheat to meet consumption in 2007, and wheat and barley prices are off the charts, the world dodged a major food-shock event in 2007. China, by reducing its wheat consumption marginally and increasing its production marginally, was able to produce what it consumed. … The risk of China and India defaulting to become greater importers of food should not be downplayed, particularly in an environment where the world’s grain farmers produced enough to meet consumption in only one out of the last eight years.”


•  The following quotes come from a much longer article, “A $93 Billion Tab We Can’t Afford Not to Pay” by Lester R. Brown, that appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of World Ark (

“The health of an economy cannot be separated from that of its natural support systems. More than half the world’s people depend directly on croplands, rangelands, forests and fisheries for their livelihoods. … A strategy for eradicating poverty will not succeed if an economy’s environmental support systems are collapsing.” Brown goes on to estimate the cost of reforesting the earth, protecting cropland topsoil, restoring rangelands, and fisheries, protecting biological diversity and stabilizing water tables and comes up with $93 billion a year. He concludes: “Many will ask, ‘Can the world afford this?’ But the only appropriate question is—Can the world afford to not make these investments?”


•  This information is taken from “Bicycles, Night Soil, and the Future of Garbage” by Lisa DePiano in the May 2007 issue of Permaculture Activist:

In Northampton, Massachusetts, a business called Pedal People picks up hair from the beauty shop, coffee grounds from a café, and food scraps from area households. These “waste” products are then taken to a local CSA farm, where they are layered with leaves and turned into compost. This business is carried out on bicycles that have attached trailers with separate bins for different types of waste. The Supervisor of Solid Waste Management for the Northampton Department of Public Works said, “ ‘In the beginning people wondered how long they were going to last. But they have made it through the best and the worst of the seasons. They started as two people, but they have continued to grow. People see them on the streets, and they are now accepted as a legitimate business. Pedal People is a worker-owned cooperative. Because of low overhead, the service can offer its customers a competitive rate and pay its workers a living wage.’”






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