Friday, July 03, 2009

Your Monthly Apocalypse: Famine

We've had a respite this year from the high food prices that led to widespread hunger and riots in 2008, but that reprieve (if you can call it that, since some of its causes are economic depression and deflation) may be about to end. In "A 'Time Bomb' for the World Wheat Crop," the Los Angeles Times (14 June 2009) reports on the Ug99 stem rust fungus, a potent strain of wheat rust which originated in Uganda in 1999 (hence the name) and has since spread throughout eastern Africa and the Middle East. One Mexican crop-research institute estimates that about 20% of the world's wheat crop is now in "imminent" danger from the fungus, and since the spores are airborne it will eventually spread around the world. Agronomists are trying to breed wheat strains resistant to Ug99, but this could take a decade, by which time the blight could destroy 80% of the world's wheat crop.

And if you were thinking "Well, that may be it for bread, cakes, and cereals, but at least we'll always have fish and chips," consider a recent report in the Idaho Mountain Press which suggests that the world's fisheries are perilously close to 100% depletion. While the world fish supply isn't absolutely doomed - fish populations can, after all, replace themselves, as oil and other minerals cannot - it is certainly troubling that advanced fishing fleets have been able to wipe out 90% of the world's large fish (tuna, cod, marlin) since 1950.

Neither of these articles portends global famine, but neither is good news for the developing world. Those of us in the richer countries will just have to learn to get by on corn dogs and Spam.

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