Thursday, February 10, 2011

Drought in China may have far-reaching effects

The world's most populous country faces significant food supply problems:
HONG KONG — The United Nations’ food agency issued an alert on Tuesday warning that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.

China has been essentially self-sufficient in grain for decades, for national security reasons. Any move by China to import large quantities of food in response to the drought could drive international prices even higher than the record levels recently reached.

“China’s grain situation is critical to the rest of the world — if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shock waves through the world’s grain markets,” said Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, in the Philippines.

From the New York Times. This is good news, in the short run, for grain farmers in North America who will benefit from the higher prices, but it will be very bad for a lot of the world. Already, many point to food prices as a major contributing factor to the political unrest in the Middle East, and in even poorer parts of the world (such as sub-Saharan Africa) the consequences will be worse still.

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