Looming food shortages are the world’s next ‘slow disaster’
Food prices are already skyrocketing. Part – a large part – of this stems from the inflation caused by runaway government spending over the past two years. Some stem from supply chain issues. But a new problem is emerging, and government officials seem just as likely to make it worse than to make it better.
This problem is the shortage of food and fertilizer caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions decreed by the West in response.
Ukraine is a major wheat producer, but the war may lead to poor plantings and a poor spring harvest. Russia is also a major producer, but sanctions and war will prevent it from exporting to most of the world.
Russia is also a major fertilizer manufacturer; in fact, it is the largest in the world. Second on the list is . . . China, a nation aligned with Russia and notably hostile to the United States and the West. (Canada is a distant third.) This worries people.
Green Markets North American Fertilizer Index, already high, jumped 16% last Friday. Urea, a major ingredient in fertilizers, increased by 22%. Potash, another major ingredient (Russia is the leading producer), rose 34% in Brazil, the world’s largest fertilizer importer. The price of standard 10-34-0 “starter fertilizer” is up 49% from a year ago and is expected to rise significantly more.
Alexis Maxwell, analyst at Bloomberg calls it “a slow disaster”.
The problem is that farmland without fertilizers is much less productive. Without fertilizer, corn and wheat yields in the United States would decline by more than 40%. But as prices promise to rise much further, farmers will either have to skimp on fertilizers or dramatically raise the prices of their own produce.
And then there’s also the soaring prices of gasoline and diesel, which are essential to today’s mechanized agriculture and to getting food to consumers. Add these cost increases and production cuts to the shortages likely to come from the invasion of Ukraine, and we are seeing some truly dramatic increases in food prices. In the West, this will result in unease. Elsewhere, it will mean starvation. Bureaucrats do not help.
Some people want to put more land under cultivation. Scottish farmers and planners have called on the government to allow farmland scheduled for ‘rewilding’ to return to production in response to anticipated food shortages. But that makes too much sense for our green elites. Scotland’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater – yes, that’s her full title – flatly refused. According to Slater, “We’re still in a natural emergency that hasn’t gone away . . . so it’s no.
Natural emergencies outnumber human emergencies in the green world, so it’s no surprise. Voters may feel differently when prices skyrocket.
The island nation of Sri Lanka offers a stark warning. A green experiment of abandoning artificial fertilizers there – encouraged by the Rockefeller Foundation – was a “brutal and rapid” economic and humanitarian disaster, Foreign policy reports.
“Against claims that organic methods can produce yields comparable to conventional farming, domestic rice production has fallen by 20% in the first six months alone. Sri Lanka, long self-sufficient in rice production, was forced to import $450 million worth of rice even as domestic prices for this staple of the national diet jumped by around 50%. The ban also devastated the country’s tea crop, its main export and earner of hard currency.
FP continues: “The human costs were even greater. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the country had proudly attained upper-middle-income country status. Today, half a million people have fallen back into poverty.
Sri Lanka’s politics, which FP describes as a “farrago of wishful thinking, technocratic hubris, ideological delusion, self-centeredness and sheer myopia”, have inflicted enormous human damage on the nation. But don’t worry, the government and NGO officials behind it won’t miss a meal. The consequences are for the little people.
With the triple threat of inflation, soaring fuel prices and dwindling food supplies, the world faces a similar fate, and once again those responsible are unlikely to pay the price. (But maybe some will. After all, food shortages have led to the Arab Spring riots and the overthrow of governments.)
Either way, the world’s policy makers need to adopt a less casual approach to the well-being of the global population. This includes many in the Biden administration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s response to concerns over fertilizer and food shortages: “Maybe sacrifices are needed.” You can rest assured that Vilsack will not make them.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.