Food scarcity

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Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Food scarcity is not only driving food prices up but also pushing poor countries into chaos. Such countries can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.
  • Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.

All about food scarcity

As demand for food exceeds supplies there is severe stress on the governments of countries already teetering on the edge of chaos. Failure to slow the growth of their populations adds to their problem.

Today food scarcity is forcing individual countries to act in their narrowly defined self-interest. This further deteriorates global equilibrium. This began in 2007 when leading wheat-exporting countries such as Russia and Argentina limited or banned exports in an attempt to counter domestic food price rises. Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, banned exports for several months for the same reason. Such moves may have benefited these countries but ended up creating panic in the scores of countries that import grain.

Causes of food shortage

Major factors contributing to the shortage are world population growth of 70 million people a year, a growing number of people consuming more grain-intensive products, and the massive diversion of US grain to ethanol-fuel distilleries. The US's use of grain for ethanol has over the last few years nearly doubled from 19 million metric tons to more than 36 million metric tons.

People in low-income countries where grain supplies 60 percent of calories, directly consume nearly 200 kilograms of grain per year. In countries like the United States and Canada, annual grain consumption per person is close to 800 kilograms, but about 90 percent of that is consumed indirectly as meat, milk, and eggs. The potential for additional grain consumption as incomes rise among low-income consumers is huge.

Water shortage

Water shortage is another major cause of shortage in food supplies, the most immediate is water shortages. In a world where 70 percent of all water use is for irrigation, water tables are now falling in countries that contain half the world's people, including the big three grain producers -- China, India, and the United States.

The biggest threat faced by China and India is aquifer depletion, as between 80 and 60 percent, respectively, of the grain harvest comes from irrigated land. This compares with only 20 percent in the United States.

Cropland losses

Another factor affecting food supply is some of the world's most productive cropland is being lost to construction. Because of enormous increase in world automobile fleet more and more cropland is converted to roads, highways, and parking lots. Worldwide, the average grainland per person shrank from 2.4 hectares in 1950 to well below 1.2 hectares in 2007. This area, smaller than a building lot in an affluent US suburb, will soon shrink to 0.8 hectares if current population growth trends continue.


  • Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?
  • The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity
  • Food shortages: how will we feed the world?