Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despite Bumper Harvest, World's Cupboard Grows Bare

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despite Bumper Harvest, World's Cupboard Grows Bare

Article excerpt

Grain reserves worldwide have fallen to their lowest level in 30 years. Population continues to mushroom. Bumper harvests this year probably will meet demand, but only barely.

This week the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is meeting in Rome with officials of some 120 nations. The top item on their agenda: food security. The world, some experts suggest, is teetering on the brink of a global food crisis.

But don't be surprised if their warnings go unheeded. Leaders heard similar forecasts three decades ago and dodged the danger. Can they do so again?

The numbers are not encouraging.

On the demand side, the FAO estimates that some 842 million people worldwide were undernourished in 1999-2001. Although that number was falling in the first half of the 1990s, it has grown since then by 18 million in poor countries and by 9 million in those nations moving from communism to market systems.

While the FAO's goal is to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, more than three-fourths of 122 developing and in- transition countries "are either lagging behind or not on course to attain the goal," according to an assessment of world food-security for the Rome gathering.

"We are worried," says Margarita Flores, secretary of the FAO's Committee on World Food Security.

Meanwhile, 76 million people a year are added to today's population of 6.2 billion. By midcentury, there could be 9 billion mouths to feed.

The supply side is, if anything, more dismal. The world's grain harvests have for four years fallen short of consumption, says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. These shortfalls have pulled down the world's grain reserves to only 59 days of consumption, the lowest level in 30 years. The FAO figures the world should have 70 days of grain supply left after each harvest, or supply becomes shaky.

Fortunately, this year's grain harvest is shaping up to be superb, thanks to excellent weather in most of the grain-producing regions. The crops of wheat, corn, and rice are up 20 to 30 percent; the soybean crop has doubled. …

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