Climate change and biofuels blamed for rising food prices

By Tierney Smith

The combination of climate change and an expanding biofuels market are combining to hit food production at a time of ever increasing demand, according to new reports.

NGO Oxfam have warned that one or more extreme climatic events in a single year could bring about price spikes comparable to two decades of inflationary increases.

Analysts expect food prices to rise by 5% in 2013 as a result of this year’s catastrophic drought in the USA. Over 50% of the country suffered severe water shortages this year, hitting the production of wheat, corn and soya.

Meanwhile the head of the world’s largest food producer Nestle has repeated his claim that subsidies for biofuels in the USA and EU are distorting the global food market by using land and water that would otherwise be used for grazing animals or growing edible crops.

The EU currently has a target to source 10% of its transport fuels by renewable energy sources by 2020. ActionAid predict 88% of this target will come from biofuels and that it will need 13-19 hectares of land overseas to meet it.

“We say no food for fuel,”  Nestle Chief Executive Paul Bulcke said. “Agricultural food-based biofuel is an aberration”.

“[Using biofuels] was well-introduced at the time, but when you have better information then you have to be coherent,” he added. “You have to know when to day: ‘Stop here’. Now we see, too, that the carbon [reduction] element of biofuels is not as clear as it was intended to be.”

Expensive meal

Oxfam’s latest report suggests extreme weather events – made more likely by climate change – could bring about price spikes , particularly for people in the developing world, who already spend as much as 75% of their income on food.

Research already suggests that food prices could have doubled by 2030 based on 2010 trends – half of which is expected to be down to climate change.

Prices of maize could rise by 177% by 2030, wheat by 120% and process rice by 107%.

Short-term price surges could have significantly worse impacts for vulnerable people, allowing less time to adjust to shocks, but the really impact will be from a combination of both long and short term impacts.

It calls for more investment in small scale, sustainable and resilient farming in developing countries, scaling-up community based disaster preparedness and scaling-up nationally and regionally coordinated food reserves.

Following this year’s drought in the US, UN agencies called on governments around the world to adopt national drought response policies as a matter of urgency.

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