Jonathan Leake – Sunday Times February 24, 2008
THE world is only ten weeks away from running out of wheat supplies after stocks fell to their lowest levels for 50 years.
The crisis has pushed prices to an all-time high and could lead to further hikes in the price of bread, beer, biscuits and other basic foods.
It could also exacerbate serious food shortages in developing countries especially in Africa.
The crisis comes after two successive years of disastrous wheat harvests, which saw production fall from 624m to 600m tonnes, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Experts blame climate change as heatwaves caused a slump in harvests last year in eastern Europe, Canada, Morocco and Australia, all big wheat producers.
Booming populations and a switch to a meat-rich diet in the developing world also mean that about 110m tons of the world’s annual wheat crop is being diverted to feed livestock.
Short term pressures have compounded the problem. Speculative buying by investors gambling on further price rises has further pushed up prices.
Though shortages are often blamed on the use of land for biofuel crops, the main biofuel cereal crop is maize, not wheat. Farmers have brought millions of acres of fallow land into production and the FAO predicts that the shortages could be eliminated within 12 months.
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Last updated 01/03/2008