Forget stocks, the real crisis is coming… and it’s coming fast.
Indeed, it first hit in 2008 though it was almost entirely off the radar of the American public. While all eyes were glued to the carnage in the stock market and brokerage account balances, a far more serious crisis began to unfold rocking 30 countries around the globe.
I’m talking about food shortages.
Aside from a few rice shortages that were induced by export restrictions in Asia, food received little or no coverage from the financial media in 2008. Yet, food shortages started riots in over 30 countries worldwide. In Egypt people were actually stabbing each other while standing in line for bread.
We’re now seeing the second round of this disaster occurring in Egypt and other Arab countries today. Thanks to the Fed’s funny money policies, food prices have hit records. And even the Fed’s phony measures show that vegetable prices are up 13%!
The developed world, most notably the US, has been relatively immune to these developments… so far. But for much of the developing world, in which food and basic expenses consumer 50% of incomes, any rise in food prices can have catastrophic consequences.
And that’s not to say that food shortages can’t hit the developed world either.
According to Mark McLoran of Agro-Terra, the Earth’s population is currently growing by 70-80 million people per year. Between 2000 and 2012, the earth’s population will jump from six billion to seven billion. We’re expected to add another billion people by 2024. So demanding for food is growing… and it’s growing fast.
However, supply is falling. Up until the 1960s, mankind dealt with increased food demand by increasing farmland. However, starting in the ‘60s we began trying to meet demand by increasing yield via fertilizers, irrigation, and better seed. It worked for a while (McLoran notes that between 1975 and 1986 yields for wheat and rice rose 32% and 51% respectively).
However, in the last two decades, these techniques have stopped producing increased yields due to their deleterious effects: you can’t spray fertilizer and irrigate fields ad infinitum without damaging the land, which reduces yields. McLoran points out that from 1970 to 1990, global average aggregate yield grew by 2.2% a year. It has since declined to only 1.1% a year. And it’s expected to fall even further this decade.
Thus, since the ‘60s we’ve added roughly three billion people to the planet. But we’ve actually seen a decrease in food output. Indeed, worldwide arable land per person has essentially halved from 0.42 hectares per person in 1961 to 0.23 hectares per person in 2002.
It’s also worth noting that diets have changed dramatically in the last 30 years.
For example, in 1985 the average Chinese consumer ate 44 pounds of meat per year. Today, it’s more than doubled to 110 pounds. That in of itself is impressive, but when you consider that it takes 17 pounds of grain to generate one pound of beef, you begin to see how grain demand can rise exponentially to population growth with even modest changes to diet.
Make no mistake, agriculture is at the beginning of a major multi-year bull market. We’ve got rapidly growing demand, reduced production, and decade low inventories.
This is an absolute recipe for disaster.
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