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Around the world we're seeing the early signs of a global food crisis; Drought in two of the world's biggest food-producing countries is provoking fears of serious food shortages as wheat and corn prices soar, reports Graham Henry.

* HIS year's unusual weather patterns may have brought torrential summer downpours to Wales, yet the rest of the world is witnessing very different consequences that threaten lives on a massive scale In the plains of America and huge areas of some of the poorest parts of India, severe droughts have provoked fears of food shortages that are driving up crop prices to unprecedented levels.

The droughts in America follow a summer that has seen temperature records smashed and rainfall hit almost unheard of lows.

On the other side of the globe from the States, India's vital rainy summer monsoon season has passed with rainfall levels some 21% below average.

In some of the impoverished areas of India, where crops are vital to farmers' survival, rainfall has been even lower. Three states have seen rice and wheat crops devastated because of a drop in rainfall of more than 60% on normal years.

The effect of the disappointing Indian monsoon and the worst US drought in 50 years on grain prices on the world's major markets has been a spike that is worse than when food-shortage fears last stalked the world in 2008.

Rising food prices hit the world's poorest in developing countries hardest. The shortage of grain cuts the availability of food aid and has led to fears of food riots next year as this year's harvest runs out.

"Around the world we're seeing the early warning signs of a global food crisis," Alun James, policy officer for WWF Cymru, said.

"The food system is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which will hit farmers in developing countries first and hardest. Temperature limits are already being reached for many major crops in parts of Africa for example, leading to expanding deserts and soil loss.

"Even wealthy countries such as the US are seeing major impacts on food production - this is driving up global food prices - and it is the poorest who suffer most."

In the US, the drought - already the worst since 1956 - has been blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon in the western Pacific which sees warming sea temperatures change global weather patterns and move moisture in the atmosphere away from the crop-growing areas of the US.

Many have argued that man-made global warming is the ultimate cause of the problem, and Mr James called for more efforts to tackle carbon emissions.

"The UK and Welsh governments must work harder to get international commitments to cut carbon emissions," he said. "Or the sort of disruption that we are seeing all around the world could soon seem all too normal.

"The harsh truth is that we have to leave most of the coal, oil and gas that remains in the ground and move to renewable sources for our energy needs."

In the short terms, fears are focused on the effects of this year's crop shortages. There have been warnings that South American crops will have to fill the gap left by what is expected to be the worst US grain harvest since 1988.

As the likely food price inflation over the coming years will only hurt western consumers in the pocket, but not drive them to starvation, the greatest effects will be felt in the developing world where price rises can lead to malnutrition.

It is widely believed that food shortages played a role in fomenting the unrest that led to the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East last year. Professor Tom DeLuca, a professor of environmental science at Bangor University, said that the impact on Wales would be limited "Wealthy, developed countries like the UK at this stage, I don't see it really limiting their capacity to import food, but it does raise prices," he said.

"In the long-term, if there was more and more severe conditions like this, it would start limiting some imports. It might mean there is a lack of specific fruit imports, for example."

Environmental campaigner and former leader of Friends of the Earth Cymru Gordon James said that the extreme weather patterns were now being linked more confidently by scientists to human-induced climate change.

"A UN-backed report last autumn, for instance, concluded that record hot days, which previously could be expected once in 20 years, are now likely every other year," he said.

"They warn that this could have a serious impact on old people and the very young as they are more vulnerable to such changes in temperature.

"They state that the areas most likely to be the most vulnerable include southern Europe, the Mediterranean region and central Europe.

"There's already evidence of the serious consequences of such heatwaves as one in 2003 which killed thousands across Europe."

Mr James said that the droughts often had their most severe effect on alreadyimpoverished countries in Africa and Asia - "the poorest suffering the most as a result of greenhouse gases emitted by the world's wealthier industrialised nations".

Mr James said the USA was experiencing one of its worst years on record for weather extremes, with temperature records broken at more than 3,000 places in June.

"We hope this will force many of their politicians to show less concern for the profits of the big fossil fuel corporations and more concern for the future of their children and grandchildren," he added.


* A man prays for rain while sitting in a dry field at Khari village. Drought-like conditions have severely hit Rajasthan, India
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 30, 2012
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