Talks of population growth and sustainability inevitably lead to one fundamental question: Can we house and feed the world’s growing population? One look at the ticker in the upper-right hand corner of the International Rice Research Institute‘s home page paints a dismal picture indeed.
It is estimated that China produces 35 percent of the rice consumed across the globe every year, but a focus on economic development and industrialization has reduced the amount of arable land available to increase production capacity in lock-step with global population growth, which means one thing: The price of rice is on the rise.
What will this mean for the globe? Cost incentives are needed for farmers to increase production — improvements in irrigation and introduction of higher-yielding strains require capital inputs. Statistics offered by the IRRI state that one-half of the world’s population depend on rice to constitute their staple diet, which means that price increases passed along to consumers will affect over 3 billion people worldwide. Unless governments in large rice-producing nations such as China and India take a heavy hand in subsidizing the technological development of rice paddy agrictulture, a significant price increase for rice will have a negative impact on those households which depend on rice for nourishment.
What will this mean for Shanghai residents? Probably not a whole lot, as we are already well-prepared to pay inflated costs for food and drink. But increases in cost-of-living have already dramatically impacted China’s rural-urban migration, which will increase should the cost of rice soar. With droughts in Sichuan province and the Chongqing municipality severely affecting crop yields in the southwest, prices are already on the rise. Sadly, this is a trend that appears will only get worse before it gets better.
Officials met August 16th in Hebei to discuss the adverse impact of this year’s unusually severe typhoon season. Saomai, the most recent of eight typhoons this year, has resulted in over 300 deaths. Even more dramatic is the impact of the resultant cool and damp conditions in areas affected by the typhoons–a plague of planthopper insects, which thrive in such conditions, which could destroy up to 40% of China’s rice yield. If you do the math (40% of 35% of the world’s rice supply = 14%), the impact on global food supplies could be dramatic.
Photo from krytox’s flickr page.