Global food chain stretched to the limit
Strained by rising demand and battered by bad weather, the global food supply chain is stretched to the limit, sending prices soaring and sparking concerns about a repeat of food riots last seen three years ago.
Signs of the strain can be found from Australia to Argentina, Canada to Russia.
As supplies tighten, prices surge. Earlier this month, the FAO said its food price index jumped 32 percent in the second half of 2010, soaring past the previous record set in 2008.
Prices rose again this week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut back its already-tight estimate of grain inventories. Estimated reserves of corn were cut to about half the level in storage at the start of the 2010 harvest; soybean reserves are at the lowest levels in three decades.
Authoritarian governments start stockpiling food
Authoritarian governments across the world are aggressively stockpiling food as a buffer against soaring food costs which they fear may stoke popular discont
Commodities traders have warned they are seeing the first signs of panic buying from states concerned about the political implications of rising prices for staple crops.
Governments in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have recently made large food purchases on the open market in the wake of unrest in Tunisia which deposed president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Resentment at food shortages and high prices, as well as repression and corruption, drove the popular uprising which swept away his government.
Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economics professor who predicted the financial crisis, this week told the World Economic Forum in Davos that high prices were "leading to riots, demonstrations and political instability." "It's really something that can topple regimes, as we have seen in the Middle East," he said.
Jim Gerlach, of commodity brokerage A/C Trading, said: "Sovereign nations are beginning to stockpile food to prevent unrest." "You artificially stimulate much higher demand when nations start to increase stockpiles."
"This is only the start of the panic buying," said Ker Chung Yang, commodities analyst at Singapore-based Phillip Futures. "I expect we'll have more countries coming in and buying grain."
An era of cheap food may be drawing to a close
U.S. grain prices should stay unrelentingly high this year, according to a Reuters poll, the latest sign that the era of cheap food has come to an end.
U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat prices -- which surged by as much has 50 percent last year and hit their highest levels since mid-2008
The forecasts suggest no quick relief for nations bedeviled by record high food costs that have stoked civil unrest. It means any extreme weather event in a grains-producing part of the world could send prices soaring further.
A series of shocks brought the grains market to the brink last year.
Another year of high grain prices could exacerbate the problem of food price inflation.
A summer drought in Russia led to a suspension of grain exports, rains in Australia downgraded the quality of its wheat crop, and a lack of rain cut Argentine corn output. China bought near-record volumes of U.S. corn, and demand for corn-based ethanol surged.
For North African countries like Algeria, the rush to import grains, particularly in the past two weeks, has been fueled by concerns about how to reduce populist anger over rising food costs that has led to riots.
With the stepped-up demand from North Africa and the Middle East whittling away at global wheat stocks, there is no room for error with the winter wheat crop in the United States that was planted last fall and will be harvested in the summer. the same goes for the wheat crops in China -- the world's largest grower.
"We are not in a good situation going into February and March in China and in the U.S., so wheat is on the verge of a real scare," Roggensack said.
As discussed in the previous post regarding famine (see here), the bible informs us that in the early days of the Tribulation, it will require a single day of wages to buy a day's worth of food. That is a severe famine. And it seems to be approaching, due to a number of complicated factors which are not helped by flooding, drought and crop disease in much of the world.
Like all of the signs that we monitor - this one is progressing pretty much as we would expect at this point.