Sakset/Fra hofta

Det skjer en revolusjon innen landbruket i den utviklede del av verden. Omleggingen til å dyrke planter til fremstilling av etanol gjør maten dyrere. Prisen på mais er doblet og hvete er gått opp 50 %.

Den rike verden har råd til dyrere mat, men ikke 850 millioner som lever i fattigdom.

Challenged by President George Bush to produce 35bn gallons of non-fossil transport fuels by 2017 to reduce US dependency on imported oil, the Jagels family and thousands of farmers like them are patriotically turning the corn belt of America from the bread basket of the world into an enormous fuel tank. Only a year ago, their maize mostly went to cattle feed or was exported as food aid. Come harvest time in September, almost all will end up at the new plant at Carleton, where it will be fermented to make ethanol, a clear, colourless alcohol consumed, not by people, but by cars.

The era of «agrofuels» has arrived, and the scale of the changes it is already forcing on farming and markets around the world is immense. In Nebraska alone, an extra million acres of maize have been planted this year, and the state boasts it will produce 1bn gallons of ethanol. Across the US, 20% of the whole maize crop went to ethanol last year. How much is that? Just 2% of US automobile use.

Samtidig fører økende velstand i Kina og India til at en ny middelklasse går vekk fra en grønnsakbasert meny og over til en basert på kjøtt. Det tar 7 kg korn for å produsere 1 kg kjøtt. Resultatet er overforbruk av vann.

«The competition for grain between the world’s 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its two billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue,» says Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute thinktank, and author of the book Who Will Feed China?

It is not going to get any better, says Brown. The UN’s World Food Organisation predicts that demand for biofuels will grow by 170% in the next three years. A separate report from the OECD, the club of the world’s 30 richest countries, suggested food-price rises of between 20% and 50% over the next decade, and the head of Nestlé, the world’s largest food processor, said prices would remain high as far as anyone could see ahead.

A «perfect storm» of ecological and social factors appears to be gathering force, threatening vast numbers of people with food shortages and price rises. Even as the world’s big farmers are pulling out of producing food for people and animals, the global population is rising by 87 million people a year; developing countries such as China and India are switching to meat-based diets that need more land; and climate change is starting to hit food producers hard. Recent reports in the journals Science and Nature suggest that one-third of ocean fisheries are in collapse, two-thirds will be in collapse by 2025, and all major ocean fisheries may be virtually gone by 2048. «Global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record this year. Outside of wartime, they have not been this low in a century, perhaps longer,» says the US Department of Agriculture.

The looming food crisis