The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Food and Agriculture

Why Do I Talk About Real Food Shortages In The Future?

Well, this is one reason:

Martin Frick told the BBC that some of the most deprived areas had now reached a tipping point of having “zero” harvests left, as extreme weather was pushing already degraded land beyond use.

He said that as a result, parts of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America were now dependent on humanitarian aid.

Mr Frick warned that without efforts to reverse land degradation globally, richer countries would also begin to suffer crop failures.

The Global Environment Facility estimates that 95% of the world’s land could become degraded by 2050. The UN says that 40% is already degraded.

This seems… bad. Of course, we could do something about it. In theory:

But he argued such an eventuality could be avoided by moving toward localised farming that seeks to reinvigorate the land.

The food agency chief said there was currently an “unhealthy dependence” on crops such as wheat, maize and rice, and the few nations that are large-scale exporters of them – creating food shortages that particularly affect the developing world when those nations’ harvests are interrupted.

He noted how the Russian invasion of Ukraine had caused grain shortages in places such as East Africa.

Mr Frick said that to tackle hunger and land degradation at the same time, the world’s poorest should be incentivised to rejuvenate degraded land through regenerative practices –

Not till catastrophe, at least in most places.

This is on top of loss of nutrients from soil, more extreme weather events which effect crops, water shortages, groundwater being poisoned, and some of the richest agricultural areas having their climates change so they are no longer as productive.

This sort of thing is why the food per capita line on the chart below (from Limits to Growth) is so… dismal.

Notice how fast that food per capita line drops, and notice also that it drops below the food per capita in 1900, not a year where people were known for over-eating.

I want to emphasize, again, that just getting a garden isn’t sufficient for personal food security. Weather and climate variability are going to make growing outside unreliable, and when you need the food most is when it fails widely.

Civilization Ending Long Covid Levels?

So, via everyone’s favorite homnicidal Dalek, a study which finds that 51 percent to 80 percent of people who get Covid (pdf) get Long Covid. Often it’s asymptomatic, but asymptomatic cases still do damage to the body, just like you can have high blood pressure for a long time without knowing it or feeling anything. As the Dalek notes, this is potentially civilization ending now that we’ve decided to let everyone get Covid eventually.

The extra sauce on this idiot doomburger, is that each time you get Covid, you can get Long Covid and there is NO lasting natural or vaccine immunity to Covid. None. And each time you get Covid, any Long Covid you have can make it harder to resist Covid and can make your Long Covid worse.

The old figures for Long Covid ranged from 20 to 30 percent. Even those numbers, given repeated infections and compounding damage, were disastrous. These new numbers are catastrophic. Eventually, if we don’t control Covid (and remember, there have been multiple new variants since BA2) we may literally have billions of disabled people unable to work and needing care.

Probably you’ll know one of them, or be one of them. Probably someone you care about will have Long Covid. Then your government, which after all couldn’t be bothered to control Covid, will decide it costs too much to support them, will cut health care and disability care, and they’ll die. Probably miserably.

Welcome to the future.

Either replace your leaders, at any cost, or you and people you care about (I know most people don’t give a damn about strangers) will get sick, suffer immensely, wind up homeless in many cases, then die miserably.

Also India is having a heat wave in April/May which has spiked over 60 celcius (140f) in some locations, and where 40-50- celcius (104-122F) is routine. We’ll never know how many people it kills (India’s very bad at counting and doesn’t much want to), and on top of that, it’s causing crop failures. Given that we’re already in for a year with less food and higher prices than usual (thanks to the Ukraine war, Western sanctions related to the war, and various problems in China (and certainly other extreme weather events)), a lot of people are going to die from famine in the next year and a half, and there will then be massive political instability, probably including some revolutions and war.

We’ll talk more about this soon.

Your leaders are culling you. Deliberately. They know what they’re doing and they’re okay with it. Are you okay with it? You may not be able to do anything yet, but the first step is to understand, in your gut, that they are a threat to you; enemies of yours.

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Oil=Water=Food

One point which can’t be made enough about unconventional oil production is that it uses a TON of water.  Fracking, tar sands, shale all require water to work and a lot of it.

So even if it’s true that we have more than enough hydrocarbons to fry ourselves (as long as we’re willing to pay a premium for it), it’s a trade-off with water.  More oil = more water use.  Hydrocarbons are also key in agriculture, both for machinery and for fertilizer.

Oil=Water=Food

This problem has been thrown into sharp relief recently because of the California drought. On top of Nestle bottling water in California, agribusiness growing water intensive crops, fracking is draining resevoirs and aquifers as well.

This problem is going to continue. In coastal regions and continental regions which aren’t blocked by mountains, it’s at least theoretically possible we could move to desalinization plants on a massive scale, build canals, and move the water inland. But desalinization is still an extremely inefficient technology and canals running essentially uphill also require huge expenditures of energy.

Water, oil, agriculture, and suburban expansion (eating into naturally productive farmland which doesn’t require huge supplies of water from elsewhere) are all related issues.  We’re looking at genuine water shortages in large parts of the world as well as dust-bowls: Expect to see them in India, China, the US, and elsewhere.

There are solutions to these problems, but we should have been moving towards those solutions decades ago and we weren’t.  As a result, a lot of people are going to suffer and die who needn’t.


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Egypt, Revolutions and Food

Zero Hedge notes something interesting about food prices post-Tunisia:

Dow Jones reports that wheat futures just hit a 29-month highs on “strong global demand.” Per the newswire, Algeria bought 800,000 tons of milling wheat, with traders estimating the nation’s purchases for January at about 1.8M. Turkey and Jordan bought wheat last week after rising food prices helped fuel unrest in Tunisia.

This is something Stirling Newberry predicted 10 years ago: that the end of the “great moderation”, 30 years of declining commodity prices, would lead to political instability.

Meanwhile Siun is reporting on the clashes in Egypt, in particular in Suez.  One part, from Egyptian blogger Zeinobia struck me in particular:

Again the people of Suez are suffering from terrible economic conditions as the factories owners there started to use cheap Asian labor instead of them creating a huge unemployment problem in the city.

That, as I have been discussing in the past is something very simple: betrayal of the ordinary citizens of a state (Egypt), by that state’s elites, for their own crash enrichment.  (I am for immigration, I am not for guest workers.  I am not for bringing in cheap labor to undercut one’s own labor.)

The future is as follows: decreased agricultural land, decreased water, decreased cheap oil (which is what our agricultural system rests on.)  The inflation figures say “there is no inflation”, but that’s a lie, pure and simple.  Food prices are up, energy is killing people and commodities are up.  So-called “core inflation” is mostly inflation in things people can do without (toasters, etc…) while fuel and food inflation is in what people MUST buy.  The same is true, btw, of health care inflation.  When you’re dying or in pain or crippled, you have to pay.

Virtually every oligopoly in the world is trying to grab as much money as it can by raising prices in collusion while not improving service or goods quality unless they absolutely much.  And if you can even buy the good stuff, it’ll cost your through the nose.  As one of my friends quips, “I buy organic meat and eggs and milk because when I was a kid, that’s just what we called meat and milk and eggs”.  Make the regular quality shit, charge for the stuff that isn’t crap.

Food and fuel are flashpoints, as will be water, but things like access to the credit economy (including the ability to pay by credit or debit card for things that can only be bought electronically, not with cash), reliable fast access to the internet, and so on, will also be crimped in any nation where the powers that be allow it.

Tai Chi better for Fibromyalgia than drugs

Imagine that.

What’s remarkable, actually, is how often some form of exercise is better for a variety of conditions than pharmaceuticals.  From depression to osteoperosis to preventing the effects of Alzheimer, getting active generally works as well or better than drugs.

In terms of societal health, doing everything we can so that people eat healthily and get exercise would probably do more than anything else.

Instead we subsidize corn syrup and build suburbs without sidewalks.

How Owning Genetic Materials Drives Farmers Into Bankruptcy and Suicide

A fascinating interview with Vandana Shiva by Lohan discusses how companies like Monsanto, through their ownership of agricultural seeds, drove Indian farmers into bankruptcy and caused mass suicides. In a decade, about 200,000 farmers have commited suicide in India.  Why?

“In 1998, the World Bank’s structural-adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta,” Shiva wrote. “The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm-saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved. …

When Monsanto’s Bt cotton was introduced, the seed costs jumped from 7 rupees per kilo to 17,000 rupees per kilo. Our survey shows a thirteenfold increase in pesticide use in cotton in Vidharbha. Meantime, the $4 billion subsidy given to U.S. agribusiness for cotton has led to dumping and depression of international prices.

Squeezed between high costs and negative incomes, farmers commit suicide when their land is being appropriated by the money lenders who are the agents of the agrichemical and seed corporations. The suicides are thus a direct result of industrial globalized agriculture and corporate monopoly on seeds.

Rising prices for inputs, lower prices for the crops.  Simple enough, really.

The first suicide that we studied took place in Warrangal in Andhra Pradesh in 1997. This region is a rain-fed dry region and used to grow dry land crops such as millets, pigeon pea etc. In 1997, the seed corporations converted the region from biodiverse agriculture to monocultures of cotton hybrid. The farmers were not told they would need irrigation. They were not told that they would need fertilizers and pesticides. They were not told they could not save the seeds. The cotton seeds were sold as “White Gold,” with a false promise that farmers would become millionaires. Instead, the farmers landed in severe unpayable debt. This is how the suicides began.

Likewise these crops require a lot more water and that has led to a severe drawdown of aquifers.

VS: India is a land of varied climates, from rainforests to deserts. Seventy percent of Indian farming is rain-fed (dependent on rain not irrigation). Introducing inappropriate crops and cropping patterns has aggravated the water crisis and precipitated more frequent crop failure. Ecological agriculture needs 10 times less water than chemical farming. Green Revolution varieties, hybrids and GM crops are all bred for irrigation. On the one hand, this puts pressure on farmers in low-rainfall zones to drill tube wells, which fail — on the other hand, it leads to more frequent crop failure.

To summarize: first world subsidies on agriculture lead to first world prices that are artificially low, which leads to dumping, which reduces the price of the crops.  Something Shiva doesn’t mention is that each time a third world country moves to cash crops, that too depresses the prices as there just aren’t that many cash crops.  Having to buy seeds every year, having to buy pesticides and fertilizers and having to irrigate all increase the cost of farming significantly, and also cause drawdown of aquifers.  Once those aquifers are gone (and they are being drawn down faster than the water is being replaced) the areas in question won’t be able to grow any meaningful crops at all.

Patenting life forms is inherently problematic.  At the current time the law is that if a genetically modified seed drifts onto your land, and interbreeds with your crops, the company that owned the seed now owns all of your seeds, which you must destroy if it insists.  So once GMO seeds are introduced into an area, it becomes difficult to impossible for farmers not to use them.

The destruction of biodiversity in crops, which started with the Green Revolution, has alikewise moved into turbo-seed which have to be bought every year, which are genetically engineered, don’t change.  Monoculture crops are very vulnerable to disease and pests, but worse than that as older species are lost, we lose their genetic heritage, which could have much of value.  They may have medicinal uses we don’t know about, may have genetic features that make them resistant to specific pests or disease, or better for certain environmental conditions, and so on.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

In any case, the world needs less monoculture agriculture and more ecological agriculture.  Not just because it is more sustainable and the world is on track to create massive dust bowls in the US, China and India due to overuse of water, but because grain based diets are inherently less healthy than more varied vegetable diets.  A huge amount of the current pandemic of degenerative diseases in the 1st world, which is at its worst in the US, can be laid at the feet of the the Standard American Diet (SAD), which consists of far too much sugar, starch, grains and corn based foods denatured of natural nutrients.  This diet has contributed heavily to an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Likewise, what was once known as “adult onset diabetes” is now common in childhood, and obesity.

The real cause of the first world’s crisis in health care costs is that people are just sicker than they used to be, not just when they get old, but at every stage of their life.  And that is largely a reflection of how we now eat, combined with lack of regular exercise.  As nations famed for their good health adopt a more American diet (like the French) the incidence of obesity and chronic degenerative disease immediately rises.

It is thus in the first world’s interests to stop with the heavy subsidization of grain and corn, to allow third world nations to protect their farm economies from foreign competition and to move, themselves, to an agriculture which produces more highly nutrient dense vegetables and less grains and corn.  This will pay back, in the long run, with lower healthcare costs and a healthier, more producitve population.

And as a side benefit, there will be a lot less farmer suicides.

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