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Food Crisis: What Happens When We Run Out of Bread

The authors of Empires of Food say that if we look at history, we can see that a food crisis is looming. Time to store grain, or else.

Sometimes a crisis strikes not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with an uptick in the numbers on a data feed. In the past months, droughts and wildfires have scorched away large swaths of Russia’s wheat crops, and forecasts suggest that yields will be down 25 percent. Global wheat prices have risen faster than at any time since 1973. This could be the first rumble in a greater storm, like in 2008 when a combination of bad weather, expensive oil, commodity speculation, and the bio-ethanol industry pushed prices so high that riots erupted in Mexico, Cameroon, and Pakistan. Or it could be worse.

This year’s jump in prices will likely remain just a hiccup, though. We saw superlative harvests during 2008 and 2009, leaving enough grain in the world’s silos to give the global food system a much-needed buffer. Investors, impoverished food-importing nations, and international organizations are aware of these stocks, and have retained their sanity. Two years ago, the world had a lot less food in storage.

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