Thursday, August 05, 2010

Famine? Scarcity?

The top story in the New York Times today is Russia Bans Grain Exports After Drought Shrivels Crop. Commodity prices are usually not at the top of my interests. Like most Americans, I assume that prices will vary, but that food will always be affordable, and I don't think about global issues of famine or scarcity. Will all of us become more conscious of these issues as the climate -- both physical and political -- creates new problems of supply of foodstuffs? The article begins with these grim paragraphs:
Russia banned all exports of grain on Thursday after millions of acres of wheat withered in a severe drought, a portentous decision at a time when crop failures caused by heat and flooding span the northern hemisphere.

Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, announced the ban, from Aug. 15 to Dec. 31, saying it was necessary to curb rising prices for food inside Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, which is suffering the hottest temperatures recorded since record-keeping began more than 130 years ago. Rail cars heaped with fresh grain were already grinding to a halt around Russia, stopped in mid-harvest, and mid-journey from the country’s vast and iconic wheat fields to the main grain exporting ports on the Black Sea.

The decision caused an immediate and sharp rise in the already high global price of wheat. It rose more than 8 percent in early trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on Thursday, after having increased about 90 percent since June because of the drought in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and parts of the European Union, and floods in Canada.

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