Hunger in the world: will the next crisis be food? Episode II – EconomyMorning

2. The majority of the countries of the world rely on others for food because they are unable to do so on their own.

From the point of view of the geopolitics of food, it is necessary to distinguish 3 groups of countries:

Self-sufficient countries , which produce about as much food as they consume. They participate relatively little in the world food trade, or they export about as much as they import. There are actually quite a few of them.

Oddly enough, China can be considered part of this group, even though it imports quite a bit of Brazilian soybeans or New Zealand milk. The most populous country in the world, whose annual meat consumption per person has increased in 40 years from 15 to 60 kilos, and whose agriculture was extremely inefficient in Mao-Tse-Tung’s time, now manages to feed 1 / 5 of the world’s population on only 1/10 of agricultural land, and with a lot of hydraulic problems. Not without work, if we consider that half of the 60,000 dams in the world are Chinese! China, which is the world’s largest producer of rice, wheat, fruits, vegetables, meats, etc., and the second in corn, would now manage to feed itself properly if ever all world borders were closed (at the cost of nevertheless a sharp decrease in its meat consumption).

India is in a more complicated situation; it is also a very large agricultural producer but it is not really self-sufficient; and above all its population continues to grow strongly and it will exceed 500 inhabitants per square kilometer in 2050, while China will only be 137 …

We can also cite the case of Morocco, whose agricultural trade balance is balanced, since it sells as many fruits and vegetables to Europe as it imports cereals, but in fact its situation remains very fragile, because we cannot live only by consuming fruit!

Structurally exporting countries , which produce each year significantly more than what they produce, in particular in cereals, the staple food, both for humans and animals, and the only one that really matters when food becomes scarce. They are few; for wheat, they are Russia, the European Union (including France for the most part), the USA, Canada, Ukraine, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Australia … the good years, because it is coming the harvest is seldom at the top in each of these zones. For rice, these are India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand and the USA. For corn, we find the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine.

These few countries, including ours, ultimately have the power of life and death over a significant portion of the world’s population, especially in times of major crisis. Of course they have an interest in selling their excess production to obtain foreign currency, but experience shows that in the event of rising concerns and nationalisms they can also sometimes decide not to sell.

Structurally importing countries are unfortunately the most numerous; we saw during this Covid crisis that if ever international trade was interrupted or if certain exporting countries decided to proceed with an embargo, they would very quickly be in danger of starvation! Fortunately, the worst did not happen, as in 2007, when food riots were observed in more than 35 countries around the world.

Let us note in passing a great historical law which has endured through the centuries: when people are hungry in the capital, the government has to worry about; bread shortages triggered the French Revolution 1789, as did the Arab revolutions of 2010-2011!

For a good part of these countries this situation is structural: they therefore do not have enough natural resources to feed their population, and very often their situation worsens from year to year because their population continues to increase and very often their cultivable land surfaces, or their water availability, is constantly decreasing. When it comes to industrialized countries, the concern is relative since they have and will have a lot of what to sell to buy their food. ; this is the case, for example, of Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, or Great Britain (we can bet on this subject that a good part of the people who had voted for Brexit had not realized that English peasants cannot feed them!).

There is obviously reason to be much more worried about a country like Egypt which must feed 100 million inhabitants in a desert, where it can only cultivate one valley, that of the Nile, which represents only 4 % of its surface.

We can also mention the particularly emblematic one of the 160 million inhabitants of Bangladesh, who will be more than 200 million in 2050, making it the densest country in the world (1,400 inhabitants per km2), while the rising waters resulting from global warming risks amputating it by a third of its current surface! Let us also quote the case of Rwanda which will be at 1000 inhabitants per square kilometer in 2050, while Sudan will have only 49 and Kenya 167 …

It should also be noted that with global warming, the Sahel is transforming at full speed into the Sahara, at the very moment when its population is increasing sharply; there is nothing more to drink, nothing to eat, and more and more people to feed, suddenly we always find a pretext to go to war because we are hungry, and then logically we are hungry because we have made war; it is not clear how we will get out of this vicious circle in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and northern Nigeria.

Let us quote for the record the case of the countries which have large deposits of mineral or oil resources … and have in fact refrained from investing enough in their agriculture thinking that they will always have oil, gas, diamonds or copper for to afford wheat or rice. We have seen that this policy remains potentially very dangerous because the prices of raw materials are very fluctuating. This is how many oil-producing countries such as Venezuela and Algeria where Iran have seen their situation become extremely fragile in recent years. Since the independence of Algeria, France has succeeded in tripling its agricultural production while production there stagnated and it is the population which has tripled, find the error!

We can also cite the case of Russia: it is still not “normal” that the largest country in the world, which has “only” 144 million inhabitants, and whose agricultural areas should be able to increase massively with global warming, cannot properly feed its population; We can bet that if he were not a big producer of gas he would have managed for a long time to have a more efficient agriculture!

There is still more hope in countries which are not yet very populated and very dense but whose “productivity reserves” in agriculture are still considerable, because for one reason or another they have not yet installed among them the previous agricultural revolution. Note for example that the majority of African countries are not (yet!) Very densely populated, but that there is not a single one that is really good in agriculture, unlike what happened in Asia or in Latin America. It is obviously extremely urgent that they start seriously to improve their performance in this activity., and in addition it is technically possible to do it by going directly to the new agroecological agricultural revolution without going through the all chemical all oil agriculture box (just as they went directly to the mobile phone without going through the landline). We do not see why Madagascar would be indefinitely condemned to produce only 2 tonnes of rice per hectare and not to feed its meager population well, while in the Nile valley we manage to harvest 8 tonnes of rice per hectare. .

For example, when we look at a map of geography, we are struck by the fact that the Democratic Republic of the Congo occupies a relatively similar place in Africa to that occupied by Brazil in Latin America, and that this country should therefore logically be a very large producer and exporter of agricultural commodities. Bad luck for him, he is crammed with deposits of oil, diamonds, copper, cobalt, etc. that passionately interest the great powers, which has made it sail from coups d’etat to civil wars for 50 years ; it will unfortunately be necessary to wait for the last mine to close in this country so that it can finally start to be able to feed itself properly, and in addition to feed its neighbors!

To read episode III, it’s here …